Bucking Trend, Ohio Doctor Opens Clinic That Provides Abortion Services
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Ohio has passed several abortion restrictions in the last few years. Many clinics that perform abortions have shut down as a result. But in a city south of Cleveland, one doctor undeterred by this climate opened a new clinic last summer. This summer, he expanded his services. Sarah Jane Tribble of member station WCPN has this story.
SARAH JANE TRIBBLE, BYLINE: Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, the same year that Dr. David Burkons graduated from medical school and started practicing obstetrics and gynecology. He liked delivering babies, but he is committed to serving his patients, including those who choose abortions.
DAVID BURKONS: Hello there. What's your name, Honey? You're here...
TRIBBLE: Burkons opened this clinic last year. It's about an hour south of Cleveland. He wanted it to be personal, with minimum wait times. At first, he could only administer the pills that induced medical abortion. Then, after 18 months of inspections, rejections and finally acceptance, he began doing surgical abortions here this summer. On the day I visit, the steady stream of women who visit Burkons' clinic are there for medical abortions, which is a two-dose drug regimen. One 30-something woman has arrived for her second round.
BURKONS: So you've had some mild cramping.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, just some mild cramping - little bit of spotting.
BURKONS: How about nausea?
TRIBBLE: The woman, who doesn't want her name used, is six weeks pregnant and sought out the clinic after, she says, her birth control failed her.
BURKONS: And we're going to give you this.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK. And what are these two? These are...
BURKONS: These are the misoprostol pills.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And just swallow them?
BURKONS: These, you swallow.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK.
TRIBBLE: Ohio requires more visits than medically necessary to take these pills and caps use at seven weeks, as compared with nine in many other states. The state's laws regarding taking these pills are one example of how seemingly narrow laws can restrict abortions. Mike Gonidakis leads the Ohio Right to Life coalition. He says sweeping bills that propose stopping abortion rarely get approval.
MIKE GONIDAKIS: We believe in an incremental approach to both the legislative side as well as changing hearts and minds.
TRIBBLE: Another Ohio law says clinics must have agreements with nearby hospitals to send patients there in case of an emergency. It is similar to the admitting privileges law in Texas the U.S. Supreme Court may take up in the fall. Lee Strang is a conservative-leaning professor at the University of Toledo. He says that incremental approach seems to be working across the country.
LEE STRANG: At some point in the mid- to late-'70s, pro-life people recognized that they were in for the long haul and instead of trying to overturn Roe, at least immediately, they tried to incrementally undermine Roe through the judicial appointment process and then through state and federal statutory restrictions on abortion.
TRIBBLE: The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that supports abortion rights, tracks restrictions. In 2013 alone, 22 states, including Ohio, enacted 70 provisions restricting access to abortion. Jessie Hill is a professor at Case Western Reserve University and on the board of a clinic that performs abortions called Preterm. She says the various provisions have gone under the public radar for years.
JESSIE HILL: It's hard for people to see how any one of these things in isolation impacts abortion access. But when they add up, they can really constitute a major burden.
TRIBBLE: And that's why Burkons' clinic opening is a big deal. He says the work is really rewarding. Virtually all the women are relieved and grateful.
BURKONS: Nobody grows up saying, you know, I'm planning on having an abortion. And, oh, they think, it'll never happen to me; I'm too smart for that or whatever. And they just assume if it ever does happen, someone will be here.
TRIBBLE: About half of Ohio's clinics that perform abortions have closed since 2010. With Burkons', there are now nine in the state. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Jane Tribble in Cleveland.
SIEGEL: That story is part of a reporting partnership of NPR, WCPN and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.