Misconception: Ohio's Disappearing Abortion Clinics

Two anti-abortion protestors walk outside Women's Med Group on Stroop Road in Kettering, Ohio on March 26, 2015.  Texas-based, anti-abortion non-profit, 40 Days for Life, organized a week-long protest outside the abortion clinic before Easter.

By Jeremy Wiedle

Originally published in the Dayton City Paper

April 7, 2014

On its six-mile wind through Dayton’s Kettering suburb, Stroop Road is home to a subtle, timely irony. Found in two large, narrow-windowed office buildings sitting on opposite ends, this irony lies not only in their distance on the same bust street, but also in the similar services they provide. Arguably, both were established to help pregnant women in crisis. How they do this, however, is where their similarities end and national debate begins.

Women’s Med Group, at 1401 E. Stroop, is an abortion clinic. The Women’s Center on Stroop’s west end is a non-profit, Christian-based, pregnancy resource center. Opposite directions denote the larger, national debate surrounding both businesses.

Surveillance cameras litter the outside walls of the Women’s Med Group building. A sign warning trespassers stands prominent in the front flowerbed. Over 200 anti-abortion protestors rallied outside the building last July when a month earlier, the Supreme Court had struck down a Massachusetts law instituting a 35-foot “buffer zone” during protests.

Google’s most current street images of the Kettering clinic [from September 2011] show a smaller-scaled anti-abortion protest. The photos reveal two protestors under a tent on the front sidewalk. A-frame signs near the entrance wield graphic depictions of dismembered unborn. A station wagon parked across the street with a the poster on its roof reads, “PRAY TO END ABORTION.”

Mike Spencer, a speaker for Life Training Institute, speaks at the 40 Days of Life anti-abortion protest and prayer vigil. Over 50 anti-abortion protesters stood outside the Women’s Med Group in Kettering on March 29, 2015 and called for the clinic's closure. 

Late last month, over 50 people from a variety of local churches and organizations gathered outside. 40 Days for Life, an anti-abortion, Christian non-profit based in Texas, organized the demonstration. Calling the gathering a prayer service, rather than a protest, demonstrators argued for the closure of the abortion clinic. Blue balloons released into the air concluded the Palm-Sunday event. Each was said to be in remembrance of past abortions performed in Kettering.

A Gallup Poll from last May found abortion the most contentious moral issue in the United States. Only 42 percent of Americans expressed acceptance. Once at a high of 56 percent in 1996, the percentage of “pro-choice” Americans now closely rivals that of the oppositional “pro-life” group. Gallup’s latest numbers put them at 47 to 46 percent, respectively. At this ratio, abortion is neither condemned nor accepted by the majority – making it a polarizing and highly debated topic.

Nowhere is polarization more apparent than politically torn Ohio. Over the last year the Buckeye State has become an epicenter in the debate over abortion legality.

At the beginning of 2013 there were 14 abortion clinics in Ohio. Now, there are eight. This is the result of tighter government regulation penned mostly by state republicans. In November, the state’s southwestern Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health. It claimed the department was unlawfully endangering the existence of its Elizabeth Campbell Surgical Center in Cincinnati.

In 2013, the Ohio legislature updated a law requiring all abortion clinics in the state to form transfer agreements with local, private hospitals. Planned Parenthood’s Cincinnati location lacks such an agreement. The health department granted the clinic a variance within a week of the lawsuit’s filing, allowing abortions to continue.

The variance does not change the current state law. Nor does it guarantee the clinic’s safety in future state compliance tests. Should the center close, Cincinnati will become the largest metropolitan city in the nation without access to an abortion clinic.

This lingering distinction was recently surpassed by another late last month when Ohio’s House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing abortion after the fetal heartbeat begins. The 6-week mark in a typical pregnancy. Similar attempts of a “heartbeat law” in Ohio and in other states have all failed. House Bill 69 is a long way from becoming law, and faces conservative hurtles – the main one being Ohio Governor John Kasich, who before a vote on the bill, expressed reservation on such a law. 

Dr. Martin Haskell's Kettering abortion clinic is the site of frequent anti-abortion protests. His Kettering location is one of three abortion clinics remaining in Southwestern, Ohio.

Pro-life is born

Dr. Martin Haskell operates Women’s Med Group on the other end of Stroop Road. He explains the roots of the anti-abortion movement and the role Southwestern Ohio plays in its history.

“The dichotomy [between religious groups and abortion rights] exists because they want it to,” he said. “I don’t think the ending a life argument came up until the early 1990s. That’s an invention of the 21st century,” Dr. Haskell said.

He added, “Prior to that, the people who started the anti-abortion movement, particularly the Willkes here in Cincinnati… Before Roe vs. Wade they were anti-Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood was providing contraceptives to teenagers.”

Dr. Haskell is referring to the late John C. Willke, a leading figure in the Pro-Life movement. In reporting his death late last month, the Associated Press highlighted his tenure as President of the National Right to Life Committee. A position he held for over seven years. After leaving in 1991, he founded the Cincinnati based anti-abortion non-profit, Life Issues Institute. Online, their mission statement declares Cincinnati “the birthplace of the modern-day pro-life movement.”

The beginning of the modern-day pro-life movement is commonly associated with the 1973 passing of Roe V. Wade, a Supreme Court decision that led to larger public acceptance of abortion. But, its roots can be traced back to 1967 with the formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Founded by the Catholic Church, it was composed of high-ranking American Catholics, and responsible for overseeing the creation of the National Right to Life Committee in 1968.

The Catholic Church officially recognized the NRLC in 1968 under Pope Paul VI. The church maintained direct oversight of the organization up until the Roe decision.

“You have this, in my view, this real confusion of belief,” Dr. Haskell said of the movement, “of what’s underneath it and what’s driving it. And it’s morphed into this ‘ending a life’ but the real reality when it started was really all about controlling sex. As a result I think even they have forgotten where they’re coming from and in my view I don’t think they’re very intellectually honest.”

The Miami Valley Women's Center is one of two Crisis Pregnancy Centers on Stroop Road in Kettering. Advocates for abortion rights argue these centers misguide women into believing abortions are regrettable, painful, and commonly dangerous.

What is a crisis center?

The Miami Valley Women’s Center has a noticeably different atmosphere than its east-end counterpart. Unlike the Med Group, a sign next to the road mentions at least one of the center’s services; free pregnancy testing. Below the words, a stick figured woman dances in a purple dress. Workers drive in and out of the main entrance wearing white scrubs.

The center operates as a non-profit through private donations, and like similar crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), offers material assistance and parenting courses to expecting parents.

“The Miami Valley Women’s Center is an organization that values life, supports families, and demonstrates Christ’s love,” Executive Director Tiffany Seifman said.

This mission is accomplished by serving the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of women and families who are in crisis because of an unplanned pregnancy.”

Outside of social services, under the state license of a medical director, the center provides pregnancy testing and a limited ultrasound. Essentially, their free services act as an alternative to a costly abortion clinic or hospital visit. A point highlighted on their website in a comparison of typical medical expenses associated with their services.

Seifman acknowledges Miami Valley Women’s Center does have its medical limitations, saying, “Beyond the verification of pregnancy, we encourage clients to schedule an appointment with their doctor and [we] provide referrals if they do not already have a physician.”

On their website, Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion youth organization, defines a CPC as, “a non-profit community center or clinic that primarily serves pregnant women and mothers of infants.” Adding that a CPC is “not an abortion provider, and does not charge for any of its services.” The group discredits notions of CPCs as “fake clinics,” arguing that some CPC’s known as Pregnancy Help Medical Clinics, provide healthcare beyond pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Additional services – prenatal exams and STD testing – are sited as proof of medical legitimacy.

A bag of plastic, pink-colored, fetus figurines at last month’s 40 Days of Life prayer vigil and protest on March 29, 2015.

Womenscenter.org is Miami Valley’s client website. It is the center’s primary resource for pregnant women searching for local help in an important place: online. Donors interested in supporting the Women’s Center have a separate website, miamivalleywomenscenter.org, where the organization explains its Christian foundation. Recognition of God, or the Christian foundation on which the center operates, does not appear on the client website.

According to Students for Life of America, not all CPCs are Christian based. “People who make this claim are usually implying something further: religious discrimination. This is patently false. No CPC will refuse a client on the basis of her religion.”

Allegations of misbranding extend beyond the center’s scrub-uniformed workers, clinical definitions, or Christian foundations. Rather, abortion rights activists argue CPCs convince women abortions are commonly dangerous or life traumatizing.

The Women’s Center isn’t alone; others around the nation have faced similar accusations of deception. People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group based in Washington, lists similar attempts by other crisis centers as “one of the five fastest growing threats to women’s healthcare access in the United States.”

Women's Centers of Ohio owns the Crisis Pregnancy Center across the street from Dr. Haskell's Kettering Clinic. In this photo, their temporary sign is seen during the 40 Days for Life protest at the end of March. Their Kettering extension advertises free services, much like Miami Valley Women's Center.

Similar in function and philosophy, the Kettering Women’s Center also bears a Stroop Road address. Unrelated to Miami Valley Women’s Center, it is operated by Women’s Centers of Ohio which overseas five other Southwestern Ohio locations. Their Kettering office is directly across the street from Dr. Haskell’s clinc. A large, temporary sign advertises multiple free services the center provides. Newly installed, large-lettered signage across the second story windows facing Dr. Haskell’s clinic reads, “FREE PRE-TERMINATION CONSULTATION.

Dr. Haskell and “partial-birth abortions”

Women’s Med Group’s Kettering clinic on Stroop is one of three owned by Dr. Haskell. A controversial figure in abortion’s national debate, he operates an Indiana clinic and another in Cincinnati.

Dr. Haskell is known for his 1992 presentation of intact dilation and extraction, also known as IDX or D&X. Anti-abortion advocates commonly call the procedure “partial-birth abortion” and have sought outlawing its practice since the mid-90s.

In 2003, George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act making it illegal to perform the procedure on a “living human fetus.” A 2007 Supreme Court decision upheld the law. It determined intact dilation and extraction was legal so long as the fetus is first induced with a lethal injection.

Dr. Haskell performs D&E abortions at his Kettering clinic. The Med Group’s butterfly-adorned website, womensmed.com, explains the surgery is performed only at the Dayton location and on fetuses between 14 and 22 weeks. Ohio’s viability law is included at the bottom of the legal page. It explains to clients Ohio’s ban on the operation after a fetus has become viable – or able to survive outside the womb.

The paragraph on the legal page ends, “We cannot commit to perform an abortion past 19 weeks gestation until this testing is performed and the physician determines that the fetus is not viable. There are no exceptions.”

What are your options?

Since September, Dr. Haskell’s Dayton clinic has become a resource for Cincinnati women. The transfer agreement law endangering Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Campbell Center in Cincinnati is the same law responsible for ending abortions at his Sharonville, Ohio location. Dr. Haskell does not have transfer agreements at either of his Ohio clinics. If not for a variance from the state health department - like the one given to Planned Parenthood - his Kettering office would be closed.

Two years ago, the already in-place transfer agreement law was updated to include a ban on public hospitals from entering into the agreement.

“Our transfer agreement laws prohibiting public entities from entering into those transfer agreements really just has to do with protecting tax payer dollars from funding – or in some way allowing for abortion,” Stephanie Ranade-Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life said.

40 Days for Life protesters stand with balloons in hand as Mike Spencer with Life Training Institute delivers a message. Helium Balloons were said to signify remembrance for past abortions at Dr. Haskell's clinic.

Krider said restrictions were put in place by the state to protect women.

“Our argument is really just that we need to ensure women are going to be safe when they go to these places, so that’s what we think the laws passed in the most recent years do,” she said.

Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit supporting accessible abortion, reported these standards are unnecessary. A patient in any type of emergency is guaranteed ambulatory assistance, regardless of location. In a release updated last month, the organization said, “several states mandate that clinicians performing abortions have relationships with local hospitals, requirements that do little to improve patient care but that set standards that may be impossible for providers to meet.”

Emergency calls from Dr. Haskell’s Kettering clinic are answered without a transfer agreement. Recordings are regularly featured on anti-abortion blogs. Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion non-profit, reported “double trouble” in December after two emergency calls placed from the clinic in the same day.

Krider said Ohio Right to Life approves of abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is jeopardized.

“For the most part hospitals will perform those types of abortions,” she said. “If it’s really a life-threatening, emergency circumstance. You can go to any hospital and, if they won’t perform it, say it’s a catholic hospital, if they can’t perform the abortion then they would transfer you to a facility where you could have that done,” Krider says.

But if private hospitals will not agree to perform the operation, and public hospitals are “banned” from transporting abortion patients – what options are left?

“The entire religious community does not agree on abortion, and eliminating safe and legal abortion as an option for women would be elevating one set of beliefs over another,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio’s Celeste Ribbins.

In a 2013 article exploring the “uniqueness” of Ohio’s abortion laws, the Washington Post quoted Guttmacher Analyst Elizabeth Nash: “Ohio is the testing ground for abortion restriction,” she said.

This reporter also contacted The Ohio Department of Health. A series of questions regarding the state’s abortion restrictions went unanswered.

“We believe that the laws and regulations are clear, and further explanation is not necessary,” Public Information Officer Melanie Amato said.

A version of this article was published in the Dayton City Paper in April 2015.