Canceled appointments, out-of-state referrals: 6-week ban uproots Ohio abortion access

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A 15-year-old girl laid flat on an examination table at the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center, staring at a swirling blue pond with lotus flowers and koi fish on the ceiling above her head.

She's about 14 weeks pregnant and visited the Cuyahoga Falls clinic on Friday as access to abortion fell away in much of the country. The teen is too far along to have a medication abortion, so she scheduled a surgical procedure for next week.

Hours later, Ohio's six-week abortion ban became law.

The girl's appointment was canceled.

Abortion in Ohio: The day Roe v. Wade fell, as seen both inside, outside Ohio's abortion clinics

Abortion providers across Ohio spent Friday night and Saturday contacting patients to cancel future appointments and help them assess their options after a federal court ruled that Ohio's "heartbeat bill" could take effect. The law, put on hold while the fate of Roe v. Wade was determined, bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected – typically around six weeks gestation.

Medical assistant Abby Ruggles juggles calls into the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls on Friday as confusion from patients sets in over the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Medical assistant Abby Ruggles juggles calls into the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls on Friday as confusion from patients sets in over the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Attorney General Dave Yost took action to revive the six-week ban immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But providers thought the federal court would take more time to make its decision.

Now, they're scrambling.

"That shows just how little Dave Yost gives a damn about these people, that he rushed to court and put people in this position where they literally had no notice, none whatsoever," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio.

Abortion providers send patients out of state

The sudden enactment of the six-week ban changed things for Ohio clinics overnight.

Dr. David Burkons, who works at the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center, said he knew the heartbeat law would take effect, and he anticipates a total ban on abortion in the coming months. But he didn't think he and his staff would already have to turn away pregnant people who had scheduled appointments.

"We expected we would have another couple weeks," Burkons said.

More: The U.S. Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade. What does it mean for Ohio?

More: Ohio's six-week abortion ban becomes law hours after Supreme Court's Dobbs decision

It's unclear how many patients have already been affected by the ruling, but Copeland estimated that at least 100 people had appointments for Saturday that could no longer be kept. Aileen Day, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, could not provide an estimate but expects more information to be available next week.

Latoya Stringer, an RN, holds the hand of a patient who is  six weeks pregnant, during an abortion procedure at the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls.
Latoya Stringer, an RN, holds the hand of a patient who is six weeks pregnant, during an abortion procedure at the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls.

"We will be following the law while not giving up on challenging the decision," Day said. "We are contacting patients to let them know the current laws in place and depending on how far along they are, either keeping their appointment or helping them navigate a legal abortion out of state."

At the Women's Med Center in Kettering, outside Dayton, staff members began making calls to patients Saturday to inform them of the law change. They're referring some people to their sister practice in Indiana, but those who are further along in their pregnancy have fewer options and face longer travel to places like Chicago or Pittsburgh.

A representative for the practice, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said many people don't know they're pregnant until after six weeks. Only a handful of the patients the center sees each week would qualify for an abortion under the current law.

"That virtually put every provider in Ohio out of business last night," the representative said.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Roe v Wade overturned: Ohio abortion appointments canceled after Dobbs