Doctors Face Brutal Harassment—Whether They Provide Abortions or Not

In Ohio, simply agreeing to provide health care for a clinic in case of emergency renders doctors extremely vulnerable to abortion’s most inflammatory opponents.

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Somewhere in Ohio, a doctor is looking out his window, watching the street. His hope? That no one is about to park a massive truck in front of his house, plastered with his face, his name, and a gory photo of fetal remains.

Or at least, not again.

The state of Ohio has been shedding abortion clinics like cat fur in July for the last three years, and only half of those that existed in 2010 remain open. One of those last-standing providers is Women’s Med Clinic in Kettering, Ohio. The clinic is owned by Dr. Martin Haskell, who has been operating with a variance to the state’s transfer agreement law. The clinic instead is working with back-up physicians who do have admitting privileges in order to meet the legislative requirement.

The Ohio legislature has done everything within its power to close clinics administratively without actively admitting that is their final goal. They mandated medically unnecessary transfer agreements with hospitals as a requirement to keeping abortion clinics open, then narrowed down what type of hospitals could enter an agreement, and then just how close that hospital must be.

Now, to further complicate the matter, the governor signed a budget with an additional amendment that requires back-up physicians—doctors who do not actually work in clinics but have agreed to see a patient in a hospital in the rare case that a complication does occur—to be specifically and provided to the Department of Health. Not surprisingly, some doctors aren’t comfortable with that information being in the open, especially considering how close the health department officials appear to be with the Ohio anti-abortion community. For Women’s Med Clinic, that means only two doctors are willing to have their names provided, not the required three doctors that the state mandates.

The Wright State Physician’s Group situation shows exactly why. In an effort to intimidate the medical practice from continuing to offer their back-up services to Dr. Haskell’s clinic Created Equal, an anti-abortion action group from the Ohio area is touring the city with a giant truck plastered with the faces of the local doctors, their names, and of course, aborted embryos.

One place they are parking their trucks? In front of those doctors’ homes.

Abortion opponents in the legislature claim that identifying the specific names of those physicians who are acting as back-ups “promotes patient safety,” even if that doctor is unlikely to ever be required to perform any services and will never perform an actual abortion. Local state Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican, told the Dayton media that “protecting the identity of doctors shouldn’t be allowed to take precedent over protecting the safety of women seeking abortions.”

“The state doesn’t just grant those (variances) without some investigation of who the doctors are,” Lehner told the Dayton Daily News. “It has to specifically be a doctor who is named because who is the hospital going to know to call if they don’t have the name of a doctor.”

But who is going to protect the safety of the doctors? These are medical professionals who are being punished for being willing to do the same thing any doctor in an emergency situation would be obligated to do—treat a patient who needs care, regardless of why she needs it. Is the state prepared to stop anti-abortion activists from targeting these back-up doctors, physicians who already make a living without providing abortion care and who have little to gain from offering to help a clinic, and everything to lose if abortion opponents choose to attack them?

In Mississippi in 2012, a local doctor lost his medical board appointment because he was acting as a back-up physician to an abortion clinic. A Dallas hospital tried to rescind admitting privileges to two physicians after anti-abortion protesters targeted the hospital, hoping to get their privileges revoked. The hospital’s justification for their decision? That performing abortions was “disruptive to the business and reputation of [University General Hospital].” And in Indiana, a similar requirement to make public the back-up doctors’ names was eventually dropped and rewritten to keep their names private after concerns that the back-up doctors would be targeted and harassed if their identities were known.

There is absolutely no reason medically for the state to requite a back-up doctor or transfer agreement in order for an abortion clinic to remain operating in the first place. To demand that Women’s Med Center close its door not because of an actual safety issue, but because only two and not three back-up doctors are willing to have their names potentially go public is ludicrous.

Until the state can find a way to guarantee they will keep back-up doctors safe from harassment, they have no right to make their identities a mandatory requirement in order to keep a clinic’s doors open.


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