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Students protest as Ohio abortion restrictions take effect

Students protest as Ohio abortion restrictions take effect

By Sarah Lehr

Ohio, a state with few abortion providers to begin with, may end up with at least one fewer.

Capital Care Women’s Center, located approximately two and a half hours away from Kenyon in Toledo, Ohio, will likely shut down due to legislation passed this summer.

Ohio’s state budget, which was signed in June and took effect this month, requires that abortion providers like Capital Care that do not qualify as full medical centers maintain a transfer agreement with a neighboring hospital, so that patients can be sent to the hospital in case of complications from an abortion. As of press time, Capitol Care could not be reached for comment.

The budget, however, no longer allows public hospitals to enter into these emergency transfer agreements, which is why Capital Care, Toledo’s only remaining abortion provider, cannot maintain its agreement with the University of Toledo Medical Center [UTMC]. Nurse Practitioner Kim Cullers, Kenyon’s Director of Health Services, doubts the medical rationale behind the restrictions.

“Abortions are very safe procedures,” she said. Even if a procedure were to go wrong, Cullers maintains that an emergency transfer agreement between a clinic and a hospital is unnecessary. “The simple fact is that anybody can go to the emergency room and get care,” she said.

Less than 0.002 percent of Ohio abortions in 2011 — the most recent year of available data — resulted in complications, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Within that percentage, a small portion required emergency transfer to a hospital.

Other provisions in the budget, which took effect this October, include offering additional funding for rape crisis centers provided that those centers make no abortion referrals, preventing teens from obtaining abortions without parental consent and diverting funding from organizations such as Planned Parenthood to Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs).

CPCs, non-profit organizations typically run by Christian conservatives, discourage women from having abortions and offer assistance to women who go through with their pregnancies. Although some CPCs hold qualifications to perform a limited range of procedures, such as sonograms and pregnancy testing, the majority do not have license to perform any sort of medical procedure. In total, the budget reallocates $1.4 million in federal funding away from Planned Parenthoods across Ohio, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
President of the Kenyon Republicans Andrew Gabel ’15 supports these changes in the interests of frugality. “Large, well organized interest groups such as Planned Parenthood have deep pockets and powerful lobbies representing them,” he said. “If the prudent allocation of limited state resources requires groups like Planned Parenthood to rely on the generosity of their supporters as opposed to the cohesive hand of the government, such a loss is acceptable.”

Currently, doctors in Ohio must inform a patient seeking an abortion, of the potential existence of a fetal heartbeat and must present the patient with the option of listening to that heartbeat. The patient may refuse to listen, but Cullers said she finds the premise upsetting.

“I feel like it’s just this emotional blackmail,” she said. “Clearly, it’s just a tactic to make a woman feel worse about what she’s going through.”

Gabel sees the motivation behind such measures more positively. “This bill does not ban abortion in the state of Ohio. It merely requires by law that pregnant women contemplating having an abortion are given the most information science can provide,” he said. “Governor [John] Kasich and his allies in the Ohio legislature believe in making informed decisions, and that is exactly what this bill allows for.”

A proposed bill, House Bill (HB) 248 would ban abortions when a fetal heart beat is detected — potentially as early as four weeks after conception.

Ali Goergen ’14, who attended the We Won’t Go Back Ohio rally in Columbus on Oct. 3, along with 15 other Kenyon students to protest Ohio’s current and potential abortion restrictions, objects strongly to this measure.

“If I were only four weeks pregnant, I don’t think I would know [I was pregnant]” she said. “I don’t think most women would know.”

The first detection of a fetal heartbeat could take substantially more than four weeks, though. Detection varies wildly, according to Cullers. “Fetal heart tones are a confusing part [of the legislation],” she said. “It really depends on the position of the uterus. It depends on how far along they are, it depends on the skill of the practitioner who’s performing the test.”

Another proposed measure would require doctors to inform patients of a link between abortion and breast cancer — a link many, including the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the Susan G. Komen Foundation, deny.

Rebecca Ogus ’14, who attended the rally along with Goergen, worries about what she perceives as a disconnect between politics and medical science.

“It seems like political interest can take precedent over women’s health,” she said. “I don’t think that abortion is the only thing under threat, even though it’s sometimes exclusively talked about because it’s inflammatory. Access to abortion is important, definitely, but so are contraception and mammograms.”

Cullers particularly takes issue with the way that the most recent restrictions took effect.

“What I find most alarming is the sneakiness of putting these provisions in the budget bill without really making them public knowledge,” she said.

Sydney Watnick ’14, president of the Kenyon Democrats, believes that Kenyon students aren’t immune to this public ignorance. “A lot of people don’t realize that these things are happening because they don’t follow state politics or they don’t think about reproductive rights until they encounter the unplanned pregnancy that they never thought would happen,” she said. “The alarming thing is, even now, there are few Ohio clinics that offer the procedure and they’re pretty far from Kenyon.”

When a student asks the Health Center for an abortion referral, Cullers says the Center recommends one of the three clinics in Columbus. This occurs rarely — over the five years she’s worked at Kenyon, Cullers recalls only two cases of a student coming to the Health Center with an unplanned pregnancy.

She believes that this number is misleading, however. Students likely procure pregnancy tests and abortions on their own.

If a Kenyon student chooses to undergo an abortion, the Health Center will mention the availability of Kenyon’s counseling services and will mark any absences from classes as excused. Cullers emphasized that the Health Center aims to help.

“None of the nurses here have an agenda,” she said. “If you talk to the nurses here, we probably all have a different stance politically. But, I think all of us are committed … to getting information to students and helping them make choices.”

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