The Ohio Supreme Court has heard yet another case involving one of the state’s abortion providers. It’s the second one this month. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, this case revolves around a different issue.
This case began a few years ago when state lawmakers attached restrictions on abortion to the 2013-14 state budget.
One part involves transfer agreements – written deals with hospitals outlining details of care for patients who come there from ambulatory surgery centers such as abortion clinics. Another part being questioned involves mandatory ultrasounds to establish fetal heartbeats, something that requires clinic patients to make multiple visits.
Cleveland abortion provider Preterm wants to take the state to court over these disputed provisions, but first has to win the power to do that from Ohio Supreme Court. If you ask Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, he’ll say Preterm doesn’t have legal standing to sue.
“They freely admitted that they already do ultrasounds. They freely admitted that they already do ultrasounds. So the court simply asked what harm can you prove or demonstrate and why are you here today? And they just plainly said, 'We just don’t like the law.' Well, that’s what the Legislature’s for. That’s where you go to redress these policy issues.”
One bill, one subject
The attorney for Preterm, Jessie Hill, sees it differently. She says Preterm does have standing because some of the provisions passed have hurt the clinic. And as for dealing with these policy issues, “You know this case is about the fact that the Ohio Legislature tucked these controversial provisions into a must-pass budget bill at the last moment, did not follow a fair and constitutional legislative process and violated the Ohio Constitution when it did that so that is the essence of our argument.”
The state constitution limits a bill to a single subject, to avoid unrelated policies being attached. But Gonidakis takes issue with the argument that the provisions were passed unfairly or that the single-subject rule was violated.
“The budget is 3,000 pages full of non-budgetary related items. That’s happened under Republican governors, Democrat governors, Democrat legislatures and Republican legislatures. That’s why we take the budget as a policy document as well as a financial fiscal document.
"If we are going to go down this slippery slope, do we want seven men and women on the Ohio Supreme Court line-iteming and taking out what is in our budget? No, we don’t. That’s what the Legislature is for.”
Hill says there are other pieces of legislation that have violated the single-subject rule, and she says it’s time for the state’s highest court to rein in that practice.
“That is one of the big concerns here is if the Ohio Supreme Court continues to sanction this kind of behavior by the General Assembly by narrowing who has standing to raise these claims, by kicking plaintiffs who are injured by them out of court and saying we can’t make these arguments, than it’s just kind of creating a road map for legislatures in the future – the Ohio Legislature in the future – to continue to engage in this kind of conduct.”
Ohio's high court might not have the final word
Gonidakis says he thinks the Ohio Supreme Court will rule Preterm doesn’t have standing to sue the state, and the case will end there. But he says the Legislature, not the court, will have the final say in the end where these abortion laws are concerned.
“If the court upholds what the Legislature did, I think we will continue to move forward and do what we do. But if they strike it down, it will be on the governor’s desk by the end of the year."
Hill says that makes sense.
“If that’s what the Legislature wants to do, if the Ohio General Assembly wants to pass these bills as stand-alone bills, it is entitled to do that. That is not our argument. We are focused on the method by which the Ohio Legislature snuck these provisions into the Ohio budget bill, without public scrutiny or debate.”
This is the second time in a month that the Ohio Supreme Court has heard arguments involving state laws and abortion clinics. Earlier this month, a Toledo clinic fought against a state order to close its doors because of the new transfer agreement law that was in that 2013 budget. If the court rules against the Toledo clinic in that case, the northwest region will no longer have access to a local abortion facility.