Cleveland abortion clinic seeks to sue Ohio over budget restrictions

Posted at 12:09 PM, Sep 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 12:09:13-04

A Cleveland abortion clinic asked Ohio's high court on Tuesday to grant it legal standing to sue over abortion-related restrictions tucked into the state's 2013 budget bill.

Preterm of Cleveland argued that the provisions impose added administrative and caseload burdens that clearly qualify the clinic to proceed with its constitutional challenge to the manner in which the bill was put together.

The clinic's attorney, B. Jessie Hill, told justices significant new hurdles are not required to meet the legal burden for standing.

"We have to do something we didn't have to do before: We have to enter into a new contract every two years," she said. "That's all we need to demonstrate."

The clinic disputes budget provisions that required more frequent renewal of a clinic's emergency transfer agreement with a local hospital after prohibiting public hospitals from participating and required testing for a fetal heartbeat before an abortion can be performed.

The state's attorney, Ryan Richardson, argued the clinic has not demonstrated true or threatened harm and so can't legally sue.

"As this court has said, really the essence of standing is having a plaintiff that has a direct and concrete stake in the issues, so that the plaintiff is able to properly sharpen the issues for the court's resolution," she said. "Bringing a plaintiff who is not directly affected impacts the ability to properly present the facts and legal issues that the court needs to properly adjudicate the case."

The lawsuit comes amid abortion clinic closures across Ohio that have coincided with falling abortion rates.

Abortion-rights advocates tie a host of new restrictions on clinic operations to the falling numbers, arguing women who want access to legal abortions face increasing obstacles to getting them. Anti-abortion groups attribute falling abortion rates to less demand and shifting societal attitudes toward pregnancy termination.

Hill characterized Preterm's lawsuit as an important check-and-balance on Ohio's legislators, who she argues didn't follow "a fair and constitutional legislative process." The lawsuit itself contends the bill violates the Ohio Constitution's single-subject rule.

She said if justices side with the state in this case, lawmakers will "continue to pass riders and add-ons in new bills, secure in the knowledge that they would barely ever, if ever, be subject to scrutiny."

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis, whose group has led the lobbying push for added abortion restrictions, said Preterm's dispute with the Republican-controlled state Legislature is political, not legal.

"They don't like the process because they don't have enough legislators in the General Assembly that support their point of view. That's their real argument," he said. "Elections have consequences. There's a supermajority of pro-life Republicans in the House and Senate. They need to get to the ballot box and advocate for their candidates and then they might see a different change in the Legislature that would be more sympathetic to their cause."