- Associated Press - Friday, September 25, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Two embattled abortion clinics in southwest Ohio may be forced to close after state health officials said Friday they had failed to meet the criteria to receive required variances.

The Ohio Department of Health informed Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Women’s Med Group of its decisions regarding the Cincinnati and Dayton facilities. The clinics have 30 days to appeal.

A variance grants special state permission to operate without a required transfer agreement with a nearby hospital in cases of emergency. In letters sent to the clinics, the department said the facilities had lined up three doctors to substitute for a hospital and needed a fourth.

The number of abortion providers in Ohio has shrunk by half amid a flurry of the restrictive new laws over the past four years, and the number of the procedures also is declining.

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the clinics, said Friday she and the clinic operators were unaware of the four-doctor requirement, which she said has never been applied previously. Branch said the clinics will remain open, and they will appeal the decision.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said the group is “grateful to Governor Kasich and his administration for continuing to prioritize the health and safety of Ohio’s women and children in the face of the abortion industry’s reckless abandon.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said the clinics are quality facilities with excellent physicians on staff and should be allowed to operate.

“Their closure will force women to find the time and money required to travel hundreds of miles away,” said the group’s executive director, Kellie Copeland. “Women must have the ability to access abortion care without facing undue burdens. Today’s decision puts that access in jeopardy.”

The clinics’ operators filed a federal lawsuit this month, targeting several legal provisions that they allege illegally affect their ability to provide abortions. Branch said she expects a ruling next week.

The operators of clinics in Cincinnati and Dayton contend the various provisions violate either their patients’ federal constitutional rights to liberty and privacy or the business owners’ rights to due process and equal protection. They also say a state constitutional provision limiting bills to a single subject was violated.

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