Organizations representing women, doctors and consumers today asked the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy. The request 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.”
The complaint 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.’”
Justice Kennedy has a well-established relationship with Right to Life, which successfully lobbied to close nearly half of Ohio’s abortion clinics and add 18 new abortion restrictions to Ohio law – including one facing a challenge before the very court on which Justice Kennedy sits. 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….”
She has refused requests to recuse herself from the case.
“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 Guttmacher Institute lists Ohio among 22 states that are “extremely hostile to abortion.’’
The law before the Ohio Supreme Court centers on a requirement that clinics have an emergency transfer agreement with a “local” hospital.
“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. “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.”
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.
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.
In just the first three months of this year, legislators have introduced 431 bills to restrict access to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
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.
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