Organizations representing more than 1 million Ohioans joined together to file a formal complaint against Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy.
The complaint centers on Kennedy’s decision to speak at a fundraiser for Greater Toledo Right to Life as the state’s high court prepares to hear a case that could close Toledo’s last abortion clinic.
“The executive and legislative branches in Ohio have passed a series of laws that compromise women’s health,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “The judicial branch must be beyond reproach.”
Gov. John Kasich and his legislative allies have added 18 new abortion restrictions, closed nearly half of the state’s clinics and appointed high-profile, anti-choice zealots to important state posts. Kasich even appointed Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis – a lawyer with no medical training – to the Ohio State Medical Board.
The erosion of abortion rights prompted the Guttmacher Institute to list Ohio among 22 states that are “extremely hostile to abortion.”
Justice Kennedy has a well-established relationship with Right to Life. She has been endorsed by Ohio Right To Life and some of its affiliates, and in a questionnaire she filled out for Cincinnati Right to Life, Justice Kennedy agreed with this statement: “an unborn child is biologically human at every stage of his or her biological development, beginning at fertilization…”
Yet despite these relationships and her speech at the Toledo Right to Life fundraiser, Kennedy has refused requests to recuse herself from the case, which centers on a requirement that clinics have an emergency transfer agreement with a “local” hospital.
After Toledo-area hospitals refused to enter into an agreement with the clinic, it reached an agreement with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. The state’s health director, however, determined that a hospital 52 miles away is not “local,” even though that term was not defined in state law. State legislators have since passed, and Gov. John Kasich has signed, a law defining “local” as being within 30 miles.
“The reason major medical groups oppose these restrictions is because they can hurt women’s health,’’ said Dr. Catherine Romanos, a family doctor from Columbus who joined the complaint. “There is no medical basis to require abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges. Emergency room physicians already provide appropriate treatment to all patients with urgent medical needs, including those rare cases of abortion-related complications. There also is no medically sound reason for Ohio to impose more stringent requirements on abortion facilities than on other medical facilities that perform procedures with similar, or even greater, risks.”
Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down somewhat similar requirements enacted in Texas, but the ruling has not dissuaded states from trying new restrictions.
“Women in northwest Ohio must have access to the complete range of health care, and that includes abortion services,’’ said Janet Ritter, Co-Founder of the Fulton County Indivisible Alliance and Northwest Ohio Indivisible Coalition. “We cannot return to the days where access depended on where a woman lived or her ability to travel long distances for a safe and legal abortion.”
The complaint was filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and calls Justice Kennedy’s speech “a clear violation of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct’s call to ‘avoid the appearance of impropriety’ and ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’”
ProgressOhio organized the complaint. It was signed by 51 individuals and the following organizations: Ohio National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Physicians Action Network, Women’s March Ohio, Fulton County Indivisible Alliance and Northwest Ohio Indivisible Coalition, Equality Ohio, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Women Have Options, Democratic Voices of Ohio, Ohio Voter Rights Coalition, Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, Indivisible Columbus District 3, Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus and Medical Students for Choice at Ohio University.