Ohio Department of Health Denies Variance Reconsideration for Women’s Med in Dayton
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health has denied Women’s Med of Dayton a variance to operate an ambulatory surgical facility without a transfer agreement with a local hospital. Without either a transfer agreement or a valid variance, a clinic cannot perform surgical procedures.
Why was the variance denied?
The variance was denied and denied for reconsideration because one of the physicians is not an OBGYN.
What happens next?
Legally, there are a few things that can happen. Administrative law for all sectors (not just abortion clinics) is complex. First, the clinic has an opportunity to submit another physician as a backup as part of an application for a variance. If that does not happen, the Ohio Department of Health will start the process to revoke the license for Women’s Med in Dayton and the process of revoking a license will be started with the Ohio Attorney General. The length of that process could vary. When this happened to Women’s Med in the past, it took about three years. Given the legal precedent, it could go faster. The clinic could also voluntarily cease surgical abortions.
Didn’t the Ohio Department of Health already close this clinic?
Yes. You may remember that several years ago, the Ohio Department of Health ordered closure of Women’s Medical Center of Dayton for failing to meet the requirements of a transfer under Ohio law. After a long legal battle, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the closure of the clinic in the Fall of 2019.
Unfortunately, the clinic took advantage of a loophole in Ohio’s law that allowed them to start a new abortion business with a similar but new name and apply for a new license with a clean slate. Ohio’s law governing ambulatory surgical centers (O.R.C. 3702.30) stipulates that the director of the Ohio Department of Health shall issue a license to a facility as long as it submits an application and meets the criteria established by law. For those who do not speak legalese - the words “shall” and “may” are very critical in legislation. Statutes using “shall” do not give the state any real opportunity to take into consideration things like “this facility was closed by law a few days ago,” especially when the statute itself does not list any other factors that can be considered.
I read that the Governor and Ohio Department of Health just gave the clinic a new license to keep it open?
Frankly there was a lot of public misunderstanding on this issue as some entities misunderstood the legal requirements and thought that the current administration had used discretionary powers to keep the clinic open despite a court decision closing it. This is simply not true, even though it was reported in several pro-life media outlets and by several groups.
So how did we get here?
Well, as noted in the fall of 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the revocation and closure of the previous clinic. The “new” clinic opened and applied for a license to operate. That license was approved and was valid through the fall of 2020. In 2020, Women’s Med Dayton started the renewal process. As part of the renewal, they applied for a variance to the transfer agreement law. That variance was denied because one of the physicians who agreed to serve as a back-up physician was not an OBGYN with full privileges at the hospital. Lawyers for the clinic sent additional information supporting their argument that the physician was qualified. The director of the Department of Health reviewed the request and issued the denial letter we are talking about today.
How can we keep this from happening again?
For several years, Greater Columbus Right to Life has been advocating numerous changes to the law governing ambulatory surgical centers, abortion-pill-only providers, and abortion reporting. One change we have suggested is to revise the director’s directives in 3702.30 (D) either to substitute the word “may” for the word “shall” or to provide a list of other qualifications that an application must meet in order to be approved (such as not being substantially the same as a similar provider shut down by order of law). Such a law could address the revolving door of abortion clinics that have existed not only in Dayton but also in Toledo, Columbus, and Summit County. We estimate that clinics which have been legally reorganized to remain open in the exact same place with a substantially similar staff and management after a serious violation of Ohio law account for 20-25% of all abortions in Ohio.
Why is it so difficult to close an abortion clinic? Why does all of this take so long when there are babies being killed every day? Doesn’t anyone care?
It is incredibly, incredibly frustrating. Administrative law is a complex combination of statutory language and judicial decisions for any state agency, and there have been all kinds of additional accommodations that apply to abortion clinics because of judicial precedent (past decisions). It is very frustrating for those of us who want nothing more than to see the end of the barbaric practice of abortion and work every single day to end it – be that by dismantling the legal protections for it or by helping women who are pregnant in ways so that they make choices for life.
If you want to do something right now to end abortion, consider joining our sidewalk ministry program, especially if you have M-F availability. In the past ten years, five locations that saw a GCRTL prayer presence have either closed permanently or ceased performing or referring for abortions.
Why isn’t GCRTL actively lobbing for better laws?
Until the last decade, we were very actively using our C4 organization to impact the laws, but we were a very small organization with a very small budget. Our leaders realized that while there were a lot of organizations working in Columbus on the laws and lawsuits, there wasn’t anyone in central Ohio working in a grassroots manner to change hearts and minds and culture from womb to tomb. Right now, GCRTL acts as a 501c(3). This means that donations to our organization are tax exempt, but we are limited in the lobbying that we can do. This is also constrained by budget realities. We are a small organization with limited staff and a big mission – in fact, we are trying to hire someone now to help us with the work. If we had the financial or staff resources to commit to public policy, we would tackle these problems as well as become more engaged on the local level. If you’d like to talk to us about how to make that happen, give us a call.
Why does Columbus Right to Life follow a clinic in Dayton?
Part of the GCRTL ongoing commitment to holding surgical abortion clinics accountable, we have been following the situation in Dayton with Women’s Med of Dayton very closely. It is of special interest to those of us in Central Ohio because when the abortion-pill clinics in central Ohio have a botched case and need non-emergency surgical intervention they often send women to Women’s Med in Dayton. It is also a clinic that provides later term abortions and draws women from around the state for that purpose.
In general, though, our clinic accountability project has covered all the abortion clinics in Ohio and we regularly provide research and information to other pro-life groups, public officials, and community members around the state. Our goal has always been to end the barbaric practice of abortion in our community – not just those performed here.
Can I see a copy of the documents you are referring to?
Here is a copy of the denial letter.
Here is a copy of the request for reconsideration.
We regularly obtain these and other documents related to abortion clinics in Ohio through public records requests.
The Ohio Department of Health released the 2020 Abortion Statistics Report today. The statistics look at various demographic information like where the abortion was performed and where the mother who had the abortion resides. It tracks the methods of abortion –distinguishing between surgical and non-surgical abortions, and it also breaks down abortion methods. While the data is anonymous, it looks at things like the mother’s race and ethnicity, her number of reported prior abortions or live births, her education, her age, and her marital status. You can review a copy of the 2020 Ohio Abortion Statistics here (note: it is a large file). While the numbers never tell the whole story, they can give us a snapshot of what is happening in Ohio and give us insight into trends to help us to focus our resources, attention, and programs where they are most needed.
In June, we predicted that the number of abortions statewide would increase by at least two percent. Unfortunately, that prediction was very accurate. Statewide abortions in Ohio increased last year by about 2.5% (503) to 20,605 last year. This means that about 57 babies died by abortion each day in Ohio last year. Statewide, about 52% of all abortions were committed via surgical methods and about 48% via nonsurgical methods, generally the abortion pill. Use of the abortion pill grew statewide from 38% the year prior.
Once again, however, central Ohio was a leader in reducing the number of abortions, with about a 12% decline. In 2019 there were 3993 abortions performed in Franklin County. In 2020, that number declined to 3115. In the last decade, we’ve reduced abortions by about 35%, and in the past two decades we have cut the number of abortions nearly in half. The use of the abortion pill continues to grow; last year about 80% of all abortions were non-surgical, almost entirely using one or both pills in the abortion pill regimen. Of the 2803 medical abortions, 2 were performed using methotrexate and for one the method was not reported. This is an increase in both number and percentage from 2019 when about 70% of abortions used the pill.
When we see a local decrease in abortions performed but state as a whole and the other facilities are seeing increases, one thing we look to is the number of abortions performed on women who live in Central Ohio. It is no real victory for life if women are merely traveling further away to get their procedures. With the closure of Founder’s last year and the increasing use of the abortion pill locally, this was a very real possibility. Initial reviews of the numbers show that this is not likely to be true (although we will do a more in-depth analysis as we have more time to review them).
In looking at the counties we most directly work with and in, all but one saw a significant decline in the number of abortions when compared to last year. Franklin County women had 51 fewer abortions (about 2%) with 3115 total, Delaware County women had 18 fewer abortions (about 12%) with 131, Licking County women had ten fewer abortions (about 6%) with 151, Madison County women had six fewer (about 15%) with 35, Morrow County women had 8 fewer (47%) with 9 total, Pickaway County women had 8 fewer (17%) with 39, and Union County women had 3 fewer (about 1%) with 37. Fairfield County women did see an increase of 28 (about 22%) with 151 total abortions.
A few initial things about these numbers jump out at us.
Women identifying as African-American continue to have abortions in numbers that are disproportionately high. For what we believe is the first time, African-American women obtained the largest percentage of abortions statewide. Forty-three of every 100 abortions in Ohio were performed on women identifying as Black or African American. White women accounted for 42%, and Asian women 3%. Just under 12% of women did not identify as one of the above or did not respond to this question. In 2020, about 12.5% of the total population of Ohio identified as African American.
It is difficult to estimate the pandemic’s influence on abortion. The research from our June findings suggested higher numbers of total abortions in April and May of 2020 when compared to other months, and there was an especially large increase in the number of abortion pills reported in those months. However, the authors of the study we cited concluded that the Governor’s executive order banning elective medical procedures resulted in the sharp increase of medication abortion in April. Litigation filed against the state by abortion advocates earlier this year also cited the impact of the Executive Order on surgical abortions, with the Ohio Department of Health sending inspectors to ensure the clinics were not operating until stopped by litigation.
It is clear that the closing of Founder’s in July of 2020 made a difference. Each time an abortion clinic or an abortion referring clinic closes locally, we see a significant drop abortion (and we have seen an increase those times a clinic has opened or re-opened). Together we have closed or stopped six locations in the past decade, saving tens of thousands of lives locally. The focused work of a unified and organized pro-life sidewalk ministry is integral to the success of the pro-life movement. The dramatic decline in abortions performed locally can be directly tied to the work that we are doing. If you’d like to get involved, now is a great time. Visit: gcrtl.org/swc-survey to join us.
The abortion pill is changing how abortions happen. Abortion organizations are pushing and promoting the use of the abortion pill, including encouraging women to purchase abortion pills online or oversees for “self-managed abortions.” Not only have we seen how dangerous this can be for both women and the children born alive after such ill-advised experiments, but we know how deeply this will impact our community. We have changed how we operate to reach women considering the abortion pill, but we need to continue to adapt and grow in this area. We also have a wonderful opportunity to increase abortion pill reversal referrals and education.
Lastly, we need to continue our work with and support to life-affirming organizations like Greater Columbus Right to Life as well as those that accompany women and families facing pregnancy and life challenges, and we need to provide encouragement and hope for anyone who may suffer after experiencing an abortion. In 20 years we reduced the number of abortions performed locally by about 50% and we have slowly built the infrastructure to provide community-based help and resources for families who have chosen life. With the prospect of the Dobbs case restoring abortion law to the states and Ohio’s current six-week prohibition on abortion and the likelihood of passing pending legislation that would outright ban abortion in Ohio, we will need to redouble our efforts. The pen stroke that will eliminate abortion will not also eliminate the suffering that leads women to believe it their best or only option.
In recent years, pro-life Americans have worked to pass laws that make it a crime not to provide medical assistance to an unborn baby born alive after an attempted abortion and to restrict efforts to increase the availability of getting abortion pills without seeing a doctor.
Abortion advocates have fought these two reasonable efforts tooth-and-nail calling them unnecessary, but a tragedy in Licking County, Ohio shows not only how necessary they are but also why these reasonable protections are opposed only by the most radical in the pro-choice community.
Beneath all of the social and political rhetoric, we mourn the loss of Cayden Gillum, a baby born alive after an attempted third-trimester abortion, allowed to die, and then discarded in the trash. There will be no justice for the child at the true center of this tragedy because of a recent decision by a judge.
Kalina Gillum and her then-boyfriend, Braden Mull, tried in 2019 to terminate her pregnancy in the third trimester with abortion pills that they illegally ordered off of the internet.. Abortion pills can be taken until the 10th week of pregnancy. Kalina was 28 or 29 weeks along. The pills didn’t work as she intended; her son was born alive on a bathroom floor. Instead of rushing to seek medical care, she and Mull decided to allow the child to die.
According to prosecutors, Gillum sent a photo of the newly born child to Mull with text messages that stated “it’s out” and “it’s moving.” In fact, court records show the two texted each other from when Mull left for work that morning through when the child was born.
It wasn’t until nine hours later that Gillum entered a hospital after losing a lot of blood and being unable to deliver the placenta.
Firefighters reportedly later found the child’s body inside a shoebox placed in trash bag.
For those who don’t know how abortion pills work, RU-486, also called Mifeprex or mifepristone, is a drug that acts to end a baby's life in the early stages of pregnancy by blocking progesterone. Without progesterone, the unborn baby's life is no longer supported and he or she will die. Several days after taking the Mifepristone, a woman takes a prostaglandin called misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, to expel the now deceased unborn child.
Charges were filed, but the most severe one (homicide) was thrown out by the judge. Mull pleaded guilty to one count of child endangering and abuse of a corpse and received a one-year sentence. But after a trial, Gillum received a legal slap on the wrist: probation. However, this was after a jury found her guilty of endangering a child, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse.
But that wasn’t enough for her to see the inside of a cell.
Licking County Common Pleas Court Judge David Branstool issued the probation sentence last month. His decision, he said, came from revelations Gillum had suffered horrific abuse at the hands of Mull – claims the jury did not hear.
Prosecutor Bill Hayes said justice means the defendant should be held accountable for their actions and a deterrent should be in place not to do the same thing again. He doesn’t feel that’s been the case. In fact, he worries it will go in the opposite direction of a deterrent.
“Our concern is those who would see this and take a like action if they attempted an abortion but had a live child,” Hayes told Greater Columbus Right to Life. “A person may feel they now won’t go to prison that abortion fails, and they make similar choices.”
Prosecutors didn’t try this as a “pro-life vs. pro-choice” case.
“We prosecuted this as a child-endangering case,” Hayes said. “She was a pregnant woman, but when that child was born she became a mother. She had a duty to take care of him and she didn’t. She put him in a bag in a box.”
Hayes worries about efforts by abortion advocates to broaden the mail order availability of abortion pills will result in more tragedies like this one.
“These pills weren’t supposed to be in the country,” he said of the Misoprostol Gillum took to begin the abortion. “Two orders were placed for the pills; one was stopped by customs and the other one got through.”
Beth Vanderkooi, executive director of Greater Columbus Right to Life agreed, “There is a national and local movement to increase the flow of the abortion pill into this country. Abortion industry advocates are calling for abortion to be available via the mail or telemedicine appointments.”
She said abortion advocates want to repeal laws that require the drugs to be dispensed in a particular way by medical professionals, and they want to eliminate laws the allow the drugs to be mailed into the country from questionable internet sources.
“They are also actively training the community on the theoretical availability of ‘self-managed medication abortions,’ which is basically a winking encouragement for more women to obtain abortion pills illegally and self-administer them at home. This is not only deadly for a baby; it is dangerous for women.”
Vanderkooi further added, “Abortion advocates have criticized pregnancy help centers locally by saying that urine pregnancy tests, ultra-sounds performed by nurses and reviewed by doctors, and referrals for ongoing obstetric care is not enough medical oversight to talk to women about options and help available should they continue their pregnancies. These are the same people who want women to be able to access powerful drugs that have resulted in injury and death without every seeing a single medical professional.”
Vanderkooi added, “Once again, the politics and radical agenda of the abortion industry doesn’t care if women end up in the hospital hemorrhaging or if the abortion ‘fails’ because the pregnancy is ectopic rather than uterine.” She added that she and the pro-life people of central Ohio are thankful for prosecutors like Bill Hayes who acknowledge the recently born child as fully human, deserving of dignity and the protection of the law.
Today, colleagues at Northeast Ohio Right to Life, Ohio Right to Life, and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society held a press conference after discarded fetal remains were found in the trash can outside of a Northeast Ohio abortion clinic. According to a report, the remains were recovered in a dumpster along with several other items. The unborn child was estimated to be at 17 weeks gestation. The bloody fetal remains, photos of which were shared by Denise Leopold of Northeast Ohio Right to Life, consisted of severed limbs, wrapped in a bloody blanket.
In addition to the fetal remains, the volunteer found bloody surgical instruments, urine cultures, and bloody sheets and drape. The items were disposed in violation of Ohio EPA’s hazardous and medical waste provisions which require human biological waste to be refrigerated or frozen, secured, and not able to spread infectious disease. The trash also included protected medical information that could be used to identify patients.
The materials were gathered over the course of multiple days.
This is not the first shocking news to come out of the abortion clinic located in the same place. In 2013, the Ohio Department of Health shut down the facility for failing to meet sanitation standards and other basic health and safety standards. The business was also subjected to DEA and other enforcement activity for conditions that included improper storage of medicine and theft of patient blood. The clinic, at which Burkons worked, was shut down in 2013, but Burkons was able to re-open the facility and obtain a new surgical license. Burkons is notorious among abortion providers and has been affiliated with numerous state abortion clinics, including now-closed Founder’s Women’s Health.
Beth Vanderkooi, executive director of Greater Columbus Right to Life, noted, “The callous disregard with which these clinics treat unborn children and their mothers is par for the course in the abortion industry; it is the reality that the industry and its apologists try to cover up by painting it in vibrant shades of pink and purple and calling it ‘feminism.’ Every day, courageous pro-life witnesses work to speak the truth to women and families considering abortion and reveal the truth of the abortion industry.”
Vanderkooi continued, “But today’s shocking revelations continue to reveal the truth: abortion is a violent, exploitative, and disgusting practice that trades in human despair and misery and profits from pain. We continue to pray for the day that the US Supreme Court recognizes that there is no right to intentionally destroy unborn children. Until then, this is the second incident in the past year that illustrates why the Legislature must revise abortion clinic licensing laws to eliminate a major loophole in Ohio that forces the director of the Ohio Department of Health to license any abortion clinic or other ambulatory surgical center that fills out the permit, pays a fee, and presents basic information such as an infection control plan. Ohio law does not offer any discretion to the Ohio Department of Health in granting these licenses. All a shoddy operator needs to do is change the name or file different paperwork. This happens again and again, as is illustrated here locally with Your Choice and its sister clinic Capital Care of Toledo. This is unacceptable.
This story will be updated as more details emerge.
While the official abortion figures for the State of Ohio compiled by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) will not be available until the fall, information obtained by Greater Columbus Right to Life suggests that Ohio abortions increased by at least two percent in 2020 when compared to the 2019 Ohio Abortion Statistics report from ODH.
This conclusion was reached after reading a study  published in the May 2020 edition of Contraception looking at “barriers” to expansion of medication and telemedicine abortions in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia during the pandemic. The authors looked at related state and federal laws and policies (such as the FDA label that requires in-person dispensing of the abortion pill and the Ohio law that requires the label be followed), executive actions during the pandemic (such as Ohio’s order to postpone non-emergency medical procedures, including surgical abortions), and data voluntarily reported each month by 14 abortion clinics in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky between December of 2019 and December of 2020. The study authors note that data collection methodology was approved by both the OSU and Cincinnati University Institutional Review Boards. They also noted that 14 of the 16 clinics offering medication abortion were included in the study. Locations that did not supply data were not included, nor was facility-specific data supplied.
We compared the 2020 monthly abortion figures provided in the article to abortion data published by ODH for 2019 and found that the total number of abortions in Ohio increased by at least 383 (1.9%) and the number of medication abortions in Ohio increased by at least 602 (7.7%) in 2020. Notably, these conclusions are based on the belief that abortion providers correctly reported their figures to the researchers and come with the caveat that the study will most likely be lower than the official state figures published by ODH in the fall; they probably do not include every location that may be providing surgical or medical abortions in Ohio.
The provided figures cannot tell us if the increase in abortions is directly attributable to COVID. From our Sidewalk Counseling program, we know that there can be fluctuations by months; some months are just busier than others. However, April and May of 2020 showed sharp increases in the numbers of total abortions when compared to other months: 1919 in April and 1826 in May compared to 1610 in February and 1677 in June. April particularly showed a steep increase in the percentage of abortions that were committed by medication: 72% compared to 34% in March and 39% in June. It is also notable that the only year-to-year monthly comparisons available were in December of 2019 (pre-pandemic) and December of 2020. There were 1457 abortions reported by surveyed clinics in December of 2019 and 1714 in 2020. The study authors did conclude that the Executive Order banning elective medical procedures were most likely responsible for the sharp increase in medication abortions in April. A lawsuit filed against the state earlier this year pointed out that the state EO was enforced on abortion clinics, with ODH sending inspectors until stopped by litigation.
We do not usually know the reasons abortions increase, but we do know that helping women to find empowering and life-affirming resources, encouraging them to seek healing for a past abortion, and bringing the power of prayer to the sidewalk has demonstrably lowered the abortion rate here and across the country. Want to get involved? Consider joining our sidewalk prayer team.
 K. Mello et al., Federal, state, and institutional barriers to the expansion of medication and telemedicine abortion services in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic, Contraception, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.contraception. 2021.04.020
We very much appreciate the constant pro-life work of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. He is once again showing his support not only for the unborn but also the rule of law. After the Department of Health and Human Services announced an effort to provide abortion funding through Title X, AG Yost led a group of 20 other state Attorneys General to provide clear, thorough, and convincing comments against the proposed rule. The HHS should not be funding abortion in direct violation of Title X, and today AG Yost and 20 other state attorneys let the federal government know that they will not allow the federal government to illegally fund elective abortions without a legal fight.
You can read the press release on this story here. You can also read the letter to HHS Secretary Becerra here.
On behalf of our membership and the State of Ohio - Thank you AG Yost for your continued personal and professional leadership to defend the youngest of Ohioans' right to life and to protect the rights of conscience of Ohio taxpayers!
We will be sending a Thank-you to AG Yost. If you would like to sign our thank you letter, sign up below by June 1.
Today the United States Supreme Court agreed to take up Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case was filed against Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. The case is being watched closely by both sides of the abortion debate because it is a case that directly challenges the precedents set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established a legal framework for a right to abortion before the point of viability. It is also one of the first major abortion cases the court will hear since it obtained a pro-life majority.
This case is of particular interest because it could be used to determine if any state law, such as Ohio’s Heartbeat law, permits a state to regulate or ban abortion before a baby can survive outside of the womb. At least twelve other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Tennessee) have passed restrictions and prohibitions on abortion before viability. The Mississippi law was blocked from taking effect by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is among the most conservative-leaning courts in the nation, which held it would go against the current precedent. In 2016, the US Supreme Court let stand similar rulings on 12 week and 5 week abortion bans and also struck down a Texas law on health and safety regulations, arguing that they had the effect of limiting abortions. That the Court is taking up this case is significant.
Since 2016, the makeup of the Court has dramatically changed, with what is perceived as a 6-3 split between more conservative and more liberal jurists. The case is not necessarily a “slam-dunk” though, as Chief Justice Roberts has surprised many with his decisions supporting precedent on abortion and other issues that generally are politically opposed by more conservative voices. Legal observers note that this is at least the second time in the past few weeks that the Supreme Court has indicated a willingness to take up a case that challenges precedent.
When speaking to the early leaders of the pro-life movement, you get the sense that most of them saw Roe as something that would be overturned in short order, either through the courts or through efforts to abolish abortion through efforts like the Human Life Amendment. At the same time, however, abortion advocates were pushing state-level ratification of the ERA, which many believe would enshrine abortion rights in the US Constitution.
When we talk about the Human Life Amendment (HLA), most people are familiar with the concept of an amendment to the US Constitution to protect Human Life, which was endorsed by the U.S. Catholic Bishops and others. Most do not realize that there were actually several versions of a HLA introduced. They include the Hogan, Whitehurst, and Burke Amendments of 1973, the Scott Amendment of 1975, the Paramount Amendment of 1979, the Hatch Amendment of 1981, and the Hatch-Eagleton Act of 1983. The provisions varied between returning abortion to a state-decision and declaring the personhood of the unborn child, and they had bipartisan sponsors and support over the years. The only version of the Human Life Amendment to reach a formal floor vote was the Hatch-Eagleton Amendment, which received 49 supporting votes in the Senate on June 28, 1983, falling 18 votes short of the 67 required for passage. Attempts to change the Constitution were not the only proposals that sought to end abortion-on-demand in the United States. This does not take into account the hundreds of provisions introduced in Congress or the States to overturn and restrict Roe.
In recent years, there has been a widespread effort to establish a legal and political strategy that would incrementally restrict abortion as part of a strategic effort to immediately reduce the number of babies who die each day by abortion while also laying the groundwork for Roe to be overturned and/or abortion to be abolished. For many of them, the Court’s announcement that it would accept the Mississippi case was a major step forward in that effort. It is an effort that has not been without vocal opposition, not only from the anticipated crowd of abortion supporters and advocates, but even from within pro-life circles. In recent years, there has been no small amount of internecine squabbles about strategy – both in timing (on bills such as the heartbeat bill) and on larger strategic issues (such as incrementalism vs outright bans).
Even with the presumed 6-3 majority, it is not going to be a slam-dunk of a court case. In a sense, we have very few clues about the willingness of the Court under its current makeup to take on a case with major precedent implications. This is not the time to celebrate. If anything, it is the time to work harder and pray harder. It is the time to be on the sidewalk – prayerfully and peacefully. It is also a time to continue reaching out to those who do not share our pro-life views and those who have different methods of proclaiming the Gospel of Life.
The U.S. is probably more divided than ever on the issue of abortion, and abortion advocates continue to be more and more radicalized. We need only to look at what happened in Columbus on January 22nd to see an example of this. Throughout the world, in the places where abortion is broadly legal, most countries limit abortion at 12 weeks. The United States is one of only seven countries where abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy (we are joined by China, North Korea, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands, and the latter two greatly restrict abortion to fetal and maternal health after 24 weeks).
The announcement that the Court would take up the case means that it most likely will hear oral arguments in the fall with decisions most likely to come out in the spring or early summer of ’22.
Bonus: In another disappointing announcement from the White House, President Biden’s press secretary responded to the news that the Court would be considering the Mississippi case by reiterating President Biden’s commitment to codifying Roe v Wade as federal law. The Biden Administration’s continued assault on the right to life comes even as there is discussion among Catholic Bishops as to how to handle communion for politicians who claim to be Catholic but advocate for expansions of abortion. The Pillar recently provided some analysis on this matter.
March 8, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The following can be attributed to Beth Vanderkooi, Executive Director.
COLUMBUS – Today four individuals were charged with various counts including Disorderly Conduct, Criminal Trespass, and Criminal Damaging in response to events that occurred on January 22, 2021, when a group of self-identified ‘militant abortion extremists’ stormed into the St. Joseph Cathedral shouting obscenities and blasphemy, halting a Mass and then interrupting the Roe Remembrance, a private event on Statehouse Grounds.
We appreciate the immediate work of the Columbus Police to remove those involved from the Cathedral and the efforts of the Ohio State Highway Patrol to keep participants at the Roe Remembrance safe. We will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement and continue to review our legal options.
Greater Columbus Right to Life does organize and participate in peaceful prayer, protest, and ministry on the sidewalks around Ohio’s abortion clinics. Hundreds of women and their children have expressed gratitude for the work that our team has done to invite women to consider a life choice. GCRTL volunteers are held to extremely high standards of behavior, and any volunteer who does not abide by those standards is invited to either change his or her behavior or withdraw from our program. While we aspire to be models of good behavior, we do not own the sidewalks and can neither expel nor be held responsible for those who affiliate with other organizations or work independently. If any GCRTL volunteer or any other pro-life advocate were to infiltrate a Columbus abortion clinic, scream curse words and threats, interrupt a procedure, and damage property, it is a reasonable belief and expectation that he or she would be held similarly accountable under the law. At a minimum, GCRTL would repudiate the action and sever all relationships with the individuals involved.
This has, unfortunately, not been the case with Ohio’s abortion advocates. Instead of acknowledging that those involved went far beyond the First Amendment right to protest on public sidewalks, they have instead responded with veiled threats toward me, defamatory and untrue statements about our organization, and attempts to obscure the facts of what happened in a shameful display of victim blaming. There is no justification to engage in Disorderly Conduct, Criminal Trespass and Criminal Damaging because another has expressed pro-life beliefs and action. Such an attempt to chill free speech is shameful and manipulative.
For a group of self-described ‘militant abortion extremists’ to enter into private property with the intended purpose of disrupting and blaspheming a religious observance and disrupting a private event cannot and should not be justified by pointing to the actions of law-abiding persons exercising their First Amendment rights by peacefully protesting abortion.
St. Joseph, terror of Demons, pray for us.
Praising God for Faithful Volunteers and Turn-Aways
It is midway through the 40 Days for Life Campaign, and Greater Columbus Right to Life has celebrated two moms who chose life after encountering a member of our team. In at least one of those instances, the Planned Parenthood was closed, and our regular Sidewalk team would not have been there were it not for the 40 Days Campaign. For that, and for every life choice, we give thanks to God.
We were not sure what this 40 Days for Life Campaign would look like. Many of our days are adopted by Churches, and continued reticence to gather due to the coronavirus has meant fewer opportunities to promote and sign up for church adopted days. More dramatically, however, is that we were concerned that the events that happened during local commemorations for Roe v Wade would have a chilling effect on the willingness of churches and individuals to come out to pray with us.
On January 22, 2021, a group of self-proclaimed “militant abortion extremists” stormed past a Columbus police officer and into St. Joseph Cathedral during the Respect Life Mass, which was being concelebrated by the Bishops of Columbus and Cleveland. The extremists ran up the aisles toward the altar, shouting blasphemies and curse words and damaging property. Bishop Brennan paused his homily while several men moved to protect the altar and the tabernacle. Many in attendance calmed their children and knelt to pray.
After a few moments, numerous Columbus Police officer responded to the scene, removing the extremists from the Mass, which eventually proceeded. Because the extremists were not arrested, at the conclusion of the Mass they followed attendees to the Ohio Statehouse and interrupted the Roe Remembrance, a private companion event held each year since 1974 by Greater Columbus Right to Life. Despite GCRTL holding permits granting us exclusive use of the space, neither Statehouse Officials nor the Ohio State Highway Patrol were willing to remove them or cite them for using their illegal sound systems. As a result, their offensive, vulgar, and obscene commentary was able to nearly drown out our program. Our coverage of the day’s events can be found here, and examples of what they were permitted to scream through our memorial event can be found here.
This kind of behavior was not an effort to convey a message or sway the public. It was intended to fuel their own social media and to frighten and intimidate churches, clergy, and individuals from joining programs like 40 Days for Life and our sidewalk ministry program.
This group and their tactics are familiar to Greater Columbus Right to Life. We’ve endured this behavior for more than six years, and in recent years their behavior has escalated. For example, in the Fall 2019 campaign, GCRTL was joined by 40 Days for Life Chairman of the Board and legal counsel Matt Britton for our midway prayer event. A member of group came to the event, which was held on the public sidewalk. She played sexually explicit music and danced vulgarly in the direction of some students who had come to the event. The students reacted admirably, by holding tight to the large rosary worn by one of the Dominican Sisters and praying together. While this behavior is not a daily occurrence for us, it is episodic and obviously intended to stifle pro-life speech. Greater Columbus Right to Life and 40 Days for Life campaigns across the world are frequently targets of this kind of behavior for the simple reason that we are effective.
While previous iterations of harassment have been limited to public areas, the extremists in January felt emboldened to enter into private property and private events. Yesterday, four members of the group were charged with counts including Disorderly Conduct, Criminal Trespass, and Criminal Trespass. You can read our statement on those charges here. If a group of self-identified “pro-life extremists” stormed inside of an abortion clinic, shouted vulgarities, threatening those inside, and disrupted procedures, there would be a universal repudiation of this kind of behavior by law enforcement, the media, and life-affirming organizations. Abortion advocacy groups, by contrast, have stood up to support both the individuals and the behavior exhibited at the Cathedral and the Statehouse. They are attempting to shift the blame to religious institutions and life-affirming organizations, effectively claiming that by opposing abortion and supporting programs like 40 Days for Life, Greater Columbus Right to Life at the Cathedral deserved what happened. The individuals responsible may call themselves “extremists” but they are employees of and volunteers with abortion providers and abortion advocacy groups that are household names and considered mainstream. After the first attack, the individuals responsible claimed that they will continue to target churches that oppose abortion and pro-life organizations to disrupt Mass.
This reflects the mindset and depravity of abortion advocacy groups, a fact that will be lost on many lukewarm abortion rights supporters because there has been no pushback to this narrative in the public sphere and almost no coverage in the secular media. The meager local coverage has stripped what happened at the Statehouse entirely out of the story and let stand the pro-abortion narrative that this was a “brief and non-violent interruption.”
This is not the way to truth or true justice.
At Greater Columbus Right to Life, we advocate for the dignity of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death. We also stand strong for the protection of free speech, religious freedom, and rights of conscience because they go hand in hand. To threaten religious institutions and organizations that the price of advocating for the unborn is violence and desecration is an abomination and a shameful attempt to stifle free speech and the free exercise of religion. More shameful will be if it is effective.
We have heard from some that they are nervous to come out to the sidewalk with us right now. We have heard from more, however, that they want to come out to the sidewalk to ensure safety in numbers. What abortion extremists may not have expected is that the Christian is willing to embrace suffering for love of others, even those whom we have never met.
These two women and their babies join the hundreds (if not thousands) of women and children in Central Ohio who experience the gift of life because people like you are willing to endure the possibility of a little suffering for love of them and the Gospel. One day, the head of Greater Columbus Right to Life will visit our current vigil site, a Planned Parenthood’s surgical clinic, the way that we recently visited the former site of Ohio’s first abortion clinic.
Our natural response to these evils is prayer and fasting. They are also the two most effective tools we have for ending abortion. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to join us during this Spring 40 Days for Life campaign, it is not too late. Visit www.gcrtl.org/40-days-for-life to sponsor a day or adopt an hour.
Note: Our executive director recently visited a recently closed abortion clinic in Columbus. The following content and images may be difficult for some individuals to read or view. If you have an abortion in your past and would like to be connected to a healing program, visit our local guide to post-abortion resources. If you are pregnant and would like an alternative to abortion, there are several places to get help. Lastly, if you have taken the first dose of the abortion pill regimen and would like to talk to someone about saving your pregnancy, please call the 24/7 helpline immediately at: 1-877-558-0333.
Just a little over eight years ago, I accepted the position of Executive Director of Greater Columbus Right to Life. I voiced one tangible goal: to see the Founder’s abortion clinic, Ohio’s first abortion clinic, close. When we mumble and groan about the very real challenges of 2020, we should never fail to give thanks for the fact that Ohio’s first abortion clinic shut down.
Most GCRTL supporters are familiar with what happened on January 22, at the Cathedral and the Statehouse. What you may not know is that on January 21, I had a discussion with our landlord about our office space not being available after the lease period was up. The Roe event serves as a memorial, and in that spirit, I drove by Founder’s on my way home from the Statehouse. I nearly drove my car off the road when I saw that it had a “for sale” sign in the yard. The sign says, “Greater Columbus R…ealty,” but every time I drive by, I see “Greater Columbus Right to Life.”
The last few weeks have been remarkably busy. I’ve been working with law enforcement, legal authorities, and State officials regarding what was permitted to happen and handling the overwhelming response to what happened. We’ve kicked off our 40 Days for Life Campaign and preparing to announce our banquet under current pandemic standards. We’ve restarted hybrid sessions of trainings on sidewalk ministry and end-of-life ethics. I’ve also been packing up our office and looking at available commercial real estate listings.
I’ve also been to Founder’s abortion clinic. It’s a place I’ve been to hundreds of times, but for the first (and second) time ever – I went inside.
My first visit to Founder’s was difficult. I scheduled it intentionally for a time and date that I knew I could leave and immediately go to Mass and a Holy Hour. I brought a bottle of Holy Water sourced from the healing well of the 5th Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe that I brought back from a GCRTL pilgrimage in 2016.
When we walked in, the first thing I saw was that the message “You’re Safe” had been chalked over the door. Given what I saw inside, this could not have been less true.
When we entered, we paused to offer a prayer for all those who had been killed and wounded there – that they find peace and healing. For all who had worked or volunteered there. For all who had stood outside and offered prayers, sung hymns, and offered assistance. We also prayed that we might be guided to do God’s will in this and everything.
In terms of impressions, I had a few. The first is that the inside was one of the most unprofessional looking places I’ve ever been. Almost every room was a mismatch of garish colors. Most of the rooms looked as though they had purchased mis-tints of paint and painted when needed. A few looked to have newer paint in colors making a mockery of femininity – neon green and bright pinks and purples reminiscent of Barbie’s Dream House. Several rooms featured semi-motivational quotes on the wall and gel-cling hearts on the windows. One of the most unintentionally (or possibly intentionally) ironic stickers said, “Life is Beautiful.”
My second impression was that the facility was filthy. I don’t mean the kind of dust that accumulates in a building that has been unused for a few months. I mean the kind of filth that accumulates when people just simply do not care. In several places, condensation had gathered around dirty heating vents, leaving muddy brown drips inches long on the walls. The carpets were soiled beyond belief, especially those in rooms marked “employees only.” The tile was so dirty that our realtor indicated it could not be salvaged.
The building itself appeared rather solid and surprisingly sound. Nonetheless, the overall conditions of how things were maintained as well as the original use means that extensive renovation will be required before any reputable entity takes over the building. Apparently there have been two entities who have expressed an interest in the building: us and some women who said they work in “women’s health.”
I thought it might be useful to walk our readers through the facility. For some, it might be cathartic. For others it will be disturbing. Please note the disclaimer used above: this could be disturbing. Photos have been included at the end in roughly the same order that they are described in this article.
To enter the building, one walks up a few steps under a dark awning and into a dimly lit waiting room. The waiting room is long and narrow. A walled off reception desk and a door separate the waiting room from the rest of the clinic. Aside from the drabness and the dirtiness, it could pass for an ordinary clinic. Once a woman passed through that area, we believe she would normally have been taken upstairs to the second floor for the informed consent portion of her appointment. Ohio law requires that any woman seeking to have an abortion go through a surgical informed consent appointment at least 24 hours before her abortion, whether it is surgical or medical. On the second floor are various consultation rooms, what looks like a conference room, and several heavily secured rooms that look like they may have been used to store medicines or personal property of employees. There is a room marked “laboratory,” with cabinets and shelves but no sink. Another area appears to have been an employee break room with a kitchenette and a large chalk board. A small room was labeled as a records room, and the biggest area appears to have had the doctors’ office and computer and data areas in it. Dr. Schaeffer left behind several professional certificates that are still hanging on the wall. Post-it-notes in at least one consultation room indicate numbers to Pre-term in Cleveland and Women’s Med in Dayton. Both facilities offer later-term procedures and could have been used to refer women who had a pregnancy beyond ten weeks or for whom the abortion pill did not work to a surgical clinic once the facility lost its surgical license. Before Founder’s closed forever it had operated for a few months as a non-surgical clinic.
The first floor was most likely used predominantly for abortion procedures, especially when the clinic was operating surgically. In addition to the long, narrow waiting room, the first floor featured two smaller offices, a suite of restrooms, four procedure rooms, a products of conception room, and another long room designated as a recovery space. There was also an emergency exit door and an entrance into the basement. In the basement, we found abandoned surgical gowns and carts. There was a large modern cistern and a very large amount of cleaning supplies for a facility that did not appear to be dedicated to keeping things clean.
The four procedure rooms were smallish and clustered in a square around a smaller room marked as the “products of conception” room. The overall filth of the conditions meant that you could clearly see the outline of where gynecological tables were positioned as well as the outlines of what were probably either instrument carts or a suction machine. Chains attached to the wall in one room most likely held oxygen and nitrous oxide canisters up for safety. I walked into one of the procedure rooms and I could see what appeared to be blood spatter and caked-on dirt and blood on the floor. I remembered a line from one of the inspection reports, “a heavy layer of dirt and grime coated the table.” The walls throughout the facility were soiled with what looked to be food and drink splatters, especially in the waiting and recovery area. In one of the recovery areas, there appeared to be a partially formed handprint of a rusty brown material. I presumed it was blood, but it may have been another substance. At the doors of the procedure room, in the hallways, and in the recovery rooms there were ammonia inhalants taped to the walls every few feet. At least one of them had what appeared to be droplets of blood on them.
As an aside, it is very surprising that the smelling salts were still set out in a clinic that (allegedly) hadn’t been performing surgical procedures for more than six months before shutting down.
The last room that should be noted in any tour of the clinic is the so-called “Products of Conception” room. It should be noted that our knowledge of what the rooms were used for is based on the nameplates used on the rooms themselves, the blueprints for the building, anecdotal information from previous patients and a few former employees, the obvious equipment in the room, and the common use in other abortion clinics.
Most people probably know the Productions of Conception (or POC) room from stories from people like Abby Johnson or exposés such as those done by the Center for Medical Progress. There is no easy way to state this, but generally a POC room is where the fetal remains and uterine contents are taken following a surgical abortion. In some places, staff may be asked to review the contents to see that all contents of the uterus were removed during the abortion procedure. Leaving behind any content increases the risk of complications like sepsis or hemorrhage. In most rooms, the fetal remains will be emptied from a container, possibly inspected, and prepared for disposal. When Founder’s held a surgical license, a bio-waste company would come on Thursdays and cart out boxes of red bio-waste bags. Those were always sad and sobering days.
I was prepared when I walked into the POC room that it would be sad and sobering. I was not prepared for it to smell so actively of death and decay. This was especially surprising given that the room was not legally used for surgical abortions in at least a year.
The room itself had a small working table immediately across from the door. Next to it was a metal sink that looked very much like a hand-washing sink. Next to it was a device most people are not familiar with, known as a hopper or a sluice. A sluice is used in surgical settings to dispose of liquid medical waste such as blood and maybe urine. In some clinics, the remains of very early terminated pregnancies are reported to be flushed down these systems. There also appeared to be a hose system that very much looked like one of the older-style bedpan rinsing hoses. On the side and opposite walls were several sets of wall shelves. I would imagine that these were used to hold onto blood, urine, and fetal remains until they were disposed of.
It was not easy to walk through the space, nor was it easy to share here. I went to Mass and then spent some time in a Holy Hour, grieving. To be honest, my job is sort of a perpetual mourning for those lost to abortion and those hurt by it. I think that it is important for anyone who is engaged in a pro-life mission to embrace the reality of that grief and work through it on a regular basis. This was different though, and it is hard to explain. I ran into a friend leaving Church. He could tell I was a bit disconcerted, and as I tried to explain why, he proffered a the very manly advice of, “Why be sad about something you can’t change.”
This, of course, was a well-meaning if unhelpful thing to say in that moment. What I could not express at the time but have spent several hours pontificating upon in my head is that grief is an appropriate response to evil. If you believe that evil is real, and if you believe that the unborn person is fully human, what could be more evil than the places where human persons are intentionally targeted for death by the cruelty of abortion? First they are disenfranchised, then dismembered, and finally disposed of and dismissed. I beg to God that I am never not moved to grief by the presence of evil in our world and that I am always moved to respond to it in a way that is guided by His hand.
It may be hard to think of redeeming such a space, but how powerful would that be? Imagine if you will, a life-affirming center with a meaningful memorial to those precious unborn who lost their lives there, a place where moms and dads can pay tribute to their own children lost to the lies of abortion, and a center where we train and equip the next generation of fearless and faithful pro-life advocates and incubate new organizations that form to fill the gaps in what we do. I can see knocking down the walls of the procedure room and turning it into a chapel and a memorial, such as has been done in other places.
Unfortunately, when we learned last June that the clinic was closing, the property had already been listed and was in contract for a cash-offer sale. As the weeks and months passed, I watched the property formerly known as Founder’s, curious to see who would move in. There was no sign of anyone moving in, no sign of anyone taking over, and no indication that the building was being modified or renovated. I did some property searches and found the name of the organization that had bought the building. An online search suggested that the new business may be in some legal trouble, and I wondered briefly if it was no coincidence. I did not investigate it any more until the night of January 22nd when I drove by after the disruption at the Cathedral and the Roe Remembrance and learning that we would need to find a new office location.
It turns out that the business that purchased the property carried on the legacy of breaking the law and taking advantage of the vulnerable. It has a very serious indictment against it, and the building was seized and is being sold by a federal prosecutor.
Purchasing, renovating, and maintaining the building would probably cost between $750,000 and a million dollars. It is not feasible for us without the intervention of some very motivated and generous donors to purchase it on our behalf. In the interim, we will be looking to look for new office location(s) around central Ohio as we continue to grow and serve.
How can you help?
If you are reading this far, I imagine that you have a heart for the pro-life cause. If you are a person with a heart to see Ohio’s first abortion clinic set to life-affirming use or are motivated to invest in some real estate for the cause, give me a call. For others, I invite you to consider how you can use this time of preparation before Easter to give of yourself to meet the pro-life mission. We are actively looking for people who can pray with us, volunteer in another capacity, or partner with us for financial support of our mission. Consider offering up an hour of your time to pray during 40 Days for Life, fast for a day to end abortion, or simply open wide your heart to the beauty of God’s gift of Life.
Note: These photos are the property of Greater Columbus Right to Life and they may not be used in any format without express written approval of the organization.