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Thursday, September 22, 2005

AP: New Abortion Law Goes Into Effect

A seven-year-old abortion law that goes into effect in Ohio on Thursday is forcing the shutdown of the clinic that sued to overturn the law, the clinic says.

"Essentially this law would be forcing us to run an abortion mill, running people in and out, and I can't in good conscience operate that way," Debi Jackson, director of the Cincinnati Women's Services clinic, said Wednesday, her voice cracking with emotion.

U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith ruled Sept. 8 that the law is constitutional. She delayed enforcement by two weeks so that clinics would have time to reschedule appointments and train employees on the law.

The law requires a woman seeking an abortion to meet with a doctor at least 24 hours before having the procedure to get a description of the procedure, its risks and alternatives. It also requires girls under age 18 to get a parent's consent for an abortion.

Under the old system, many clinics would offer patients counseling in person or over the phone, or they could watch a video. The counselors did not have to be doctors.

Groups opposing abortion have said that the law benefits women's health.

Paula Westwood, executive director of the Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, said Wednesday that the in-person meetings with doctors 24 hours in advance are required for things as minor as sprained ankles and should be required for abortions.

"It requires that parents provide consent, just as they have to do when minors receive ear piercings or tattoos," she said.

Jackson said she would have to find another doctor in addition to the current two to meet the requirement that patients must see doctors in person to receive the counseling. The clinic could not afford the extra doctor more than an hour a day, she said.

"Our facility has always seen patients in advance and over 90 percent come in for in-person counseling," Jackson said. "In addition to the information required by law, our counselors also have long conversations with patients to make sure they are sure of what they want both logically and according to their beliefs. It's not healthy for them if they have problems with it in either of those areas."

Many patients also come from long distances and some fear abusive spouses or parents finding out about their decision, she said.

"This law would also increase the cost of abortions for many patients who can barely afford them now," she said.

Other clinics such as the Ohio Women's Center in Akron say they will be able to provide services, but their patients will suffer hardships.

"For our patients, it will be an inconvenience as far as scheduling and the time they will need to take off from work or school," Lydia Strauss, clinic administrator for the Akron center and its sister facilities in Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, said Wednesday. "It would be especially difficult for single parents and those who have to come a long way to arrange for child care."

Strauss said the law also will double the doctors' workload and require more evening and weekend hours.

Attorneys for the Cincinnati clinic filed an appeal Sept. 16, requesting that Beckwith delay the law until the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati can rule. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro filed a motion arguing against a delay.

The judge had made no other rulings in the case as of Wednesday, a clerk in her office said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)