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Denial of Ohio abortion center license counters GOP pushback on 'war on women'

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On the same day the Lebanon Road Surgical Center [LRSC] in Ohio received notice from the state Department of Health [ODH] that its license to operate as a surgical center would not be renewed, a group of conservatives said they will introduce a resolution at this week's meeting of the Republican National Committee urging GOP candidates to speak up about abortion and respond forcefully against Democratic efforts to paint them as anti-woman extremists.

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Drafted by Delaware National Committeewoman Ellen Barrosse and co-sponsored by 15 other RNC members, the "Resolution on Republican Pro-Life Strategy" urges the party organization to "support Republican pro-life candidates who fight back against Democratic deceptive 'war on women' rhetoric by pointing out the extreme positions on abortion held by Democratic opponents," CNN reported Tuesday.

According to an ODH spokesman, the denial of license to the LRSC is based on a history of problems with this facility and operator. "After a lengthy review and hearing process the agency no longer has confidence in the operators’ ability or commitment to following Ohio’s regulations for ambulatory surgical facilities," Tessie Pollack told CGE in a statement.

But Buckeye State pro-choice backers said LRSC has always operated with such a variance, and has a record of providing high quality medical services. "This notice allows for the clinic to appeal the revocation of license within 15 days of the notice, and lawyers representing the center have indicated that they will appeal this decision, just as they have appealed previous similar decisions," Kellie Copeland, Executive Director, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in prepared remarks on the center's closing.

“Governor Kasich and his political appointees at the Ohio Department of Health are abusing their regulatory authority by moving to close an abortion clinic without any medical justification,” Copeland said, adding, "Fifteen months ago this clinic filed the required paperwork to comply with Ohio law, and on Friday ODH refused to accept this paperwork. Clearly this is about politics and ideology, not patient safety."

In a letter dated January 17, ODH Director Theodore E. Wymyslo, MD, wrote the center's failure to "timely communicate and request approval for changes to the previously approved variance worried me that conditions at the facility while operating under the variance could not be adequately monitored to ensure patient safety."

In denying LRSC's request for a variance to the requirement for a Written transfer agreement, Wymyslo said the decision "is within my discretion and a responsibility that I take very seriously. Any doubts as to Whether any variance applicant, including LRSC, can strictly adhere to the terms of a variance and prudently manage a Variance must be resolved in favor of ensuring patient safety and continuity of care."

On the eve of the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Copeland called on Gov. Kasich, who appointed Wymyslo and is running for reelection this year, to "stop his regulatory witch hunt and quit interfering in women’s medical decisions. She said anti-choice forces are moving to make abortion inaccessible in Ohio—regardless of the law. "Ohio women deserve better," she said.

The leader of Ohio's pro-choice grassroots movement's political arm, Copeland noted that LRSC has always safely operated on a variance because it could not secure a transfer agreement and that Wymyslo's decision is without precedent. Citing the testimony last October from a former ODH Bureau Chief, she said the arrangement outlined in the center’s variance application to be an "appropriate alternative" to the transfer agreement. She noted that ODH never contradicted or rebutted any of this evidence in briefs or hearings, leading her to conclude that Wymyslo's decision shows ODH is not interested in whether this center provides high quality medical care, "they are interested in waging a regulatory witch hunt on abortion providers at the bequest of Governor John Kasich."

In a telephone interview with CGE Tuesday, Copeland noted that 11 women's surgical centers remain after four closed for business reasons last year after the cumulative effects of state regulations and budgeting, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Kasich, took their toll on facilities in Toledo, Lima, Akron and Cleveland.

Speaking to the issue of safety, Copeland said no client has died and that the so-called "complication" rate is .0018 percent, representing 25 cases out of 25,000 procedures.

As Ohio marches down the same road of the State of Texas is doing with respect to women's health facilities and their right to control their own bodies, Copeland worries the Kasich Administration has abused its power by politicizing ODH. "When you take that oath of office, you take on responsibility for everyone in Ohio. Closing safe, legal medical providers, that's not their role."

Republicans like Barrosse in Delaware, say GOP candidates who oppose abortion have an obligation to confront the hot button issue during their campaigns, rather than hope it disappears. "Not talking about it has not worked well for us," she told CNN. "Not responding has not worked well for us. It's a conversation the party has to have."

Copeland thinks decisions like the one made to shutter LRSC will force women to leave the state for serious health problems. In an election year when Gov. Kasich hopes to win a second and final term, she reflects on the loss of the governorship in Virginia last year for Ken Cucinelli. A solid pro-life supporter like Gov. Kasich, Cucinelli lost to a Democratic candidate who made abortion and women's right to it a campaign issue.

"Honestly, what Team Kasich is thinking over there by closing this clinic with no medical justification ... he refuses to take responsibility. I'd tell him to knock it off, Ohio women have had enough. They won't vote for someone with so little regard for medical decisions."

Asked how Gov. Kasich, who authored a book about his time in a Bible study group while he served in Congress, could come away from his studies with the views he has on women's health, she said, "How can we read the same books and come away with such different perspectives? I see a pathway for compassion when I read the Bible. Sadly, that often seems to be missing from the Kasich Administration."

Copeland believes Gov. Kasich has given women voters "a lot reasons not to vote for him."

Back in Washington, Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokesman, called the soon to be introduced resolution "one of the first steps for the GOP to start taking back messaging on this false war on women." It provides guidance on messaging, on how to do that, and how we can positively promote our social agenda using facts," she said.

According to ODH, LRSC has 15 days to file an appeal although it can do so sooner. What are the options? Copeland declined to comment but said attorneys will appeal it but are reviewing how best to do that.

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