Ohio has licensed a clinic that plans to start offering surgical abortions while other abortion providers wrangle with the state over backup-care requirements that could make it more difficult for them to continue, state records show.
Dr. David Burkons opened the Northeast Ohio Women's Center in Cuyahoga Falls after a different abortion clinic there closed in 2013. The center has offered abortion-inducing drugs for more than a year, and its license as an outpatient surgery facility was approved in late June and backdated to March, the Ohio Department of Health confirmed Wednesday.
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Abortion-rights activists say it is the first new abortion clinic to be licensed in Ohio in several years, a period in which the state has added restrictions on abortion providers and at least a half-dozen clinics closed or reduced services.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, called the licensing "an important victory" but criticized that it wasn't approved until more than a year after the initial application.
Burkons said he hopes to start surgical abortions in late July but first needs to line up nurses after going through two inspections and waiting so long for a license. He said the inspectors are fair but questioned whether the Department of Health, under Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration, intentionally moved more slowly on his center's application than those for surgery facilities in the same category that don't perform abortions.
"I suspect that I was being discriminated against because of being an abortion provider," Burkons said.
A Department of Health spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on those allegations Wednesday.
The Cuyahoga Falls center is among a dozen Ohio locations that provide surgical or medical abortions, or both.
Two of those clinics have gone back and forth with the state over requirements related to backup care. In Toledo, where Burkons says he is the remaining clinic's only doctor, a judge concluded that abortion restrictions imposed were unconstitutional, allowing the facility to remain open as the state attorney general's office appeals that ruling.
In southwest Ohio, the state denied the Dayton clinic's latest request for an exception to rules requiring a patient-transfer agreement with a hospital in case of emergencies. The operators planned to re-apply.
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