Bucking Trend, Ohio Doctor Opens Clinic That Provides Abortion Services

Bucking Trend, Ohio Doctor Opens Clinic That Provides Abortion Services

4:04pm Sep 08, 2015
Dr. David Burkons holds the licensing certificates that allowed him to open a clinic that provides medical and surgical abortions. It took about 18 extra months of inspections, he says, to get the approval to offer surgical abortions.
Dr. David Burkons holds the licensing certificates that allowed him to open a clinic that provides medical and surgical abortions. It took about 18 extra months of inspections, he says, to get the approval to offer surgical abortions.
Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN
  • Dr. David Burkons holds the licensing certificates that allowed him to open a clinic that provides medical and surgical abortions. It took about 18 extra months of inspections, he says, to get the approval to offer surgical abortions.

    Dr. David Burkons holds the licensing certificates that allowed him to open a clinic that provides medical and surgical abortions. It took about 18 extra months of inspections, he says, to get the approval to offer surgical abortions.

    Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN

  • Dr. David Burkons opened his clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on a busy commercial strip in early 2014.

    Dr. David Burkons opened his clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on a busy commercial strip in early 2014.

    Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN

Dr. David Burkons graduated from medical school and began practicing obstetrics and gynecology in 1973, the same year the Supreme Court issued its landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade.

Burkons liked delivering babies. But he is also committed to serving all his patients, including those who choose abortions.

On a recent day a 30-something woman comes to the clinic. She is six weeks pregnant. Her birth control failed her, she says. Burkons greets the woman warmly as she comes to the clinic for the second round of the medical abortion process, a two-dose drug regimen to end a pregnancy.

"We're going to give you this," Burkons says, handing the woman the pills.

"And what are these two?" asks the woman, who requested anonymity.

"These are the misoprostol pills," Burkons says.

On this day a steady stream of women visit Burkons' clinic for medical abortions.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision, Ohio has been a trendsetter in passing restrictions on abortion. So it is especially unusual that in a small Ohio town, an hour south of Cleveland, a new clinic that performs abortions opened its doors last year.

Burkons wanted the clinic to be personable, with minimal wait times.

Initially in his new clinic, he could only administer the pills that induce medical abortion. But this summer, after 18 months of state inspections, rejections and — finally — acceptance, he began performing surgical abortions as well.

Dr. David Burkons opened his clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on a busy commercial strip in early 2014.

Dr. David Burkons opened his clinic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on a busy commercial strip in early 2014.

Sarah Jane Tribble/WCPN

For any woman wanting to take these pills, Ohio requires more clinic visits than medically necessary, and it makes their use illegal after seven weeks of pregnancy. In many other states that restriction comes at nine weeks of pregnancy.

Ohio's laws are examples of how seemingly narrow rules can significantly curtail abortion. Mike Gonidakis, who leads Ohio Right to Life, says broader bills that propose stopping abortion entirely rarely get approval. "We believe in an incremental approach to both the legislative side as well as the changing [of] hearts and minds," Gonidakis says.

Another Ohio law, similar to one in Texas, requires doctors at clinics that perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, in case of an emergency. These laws allow hospitals to grant specific doctors access to their facilities, but hospitals aren't required to grant the privileges. The U.S. Supreme Court may take up the Texas case in the fall.

Ohio has also proposed legislation that would make it illegal to end a pregnancy if the reason for the abortion is that the fetus has Down syndrome.

Lee Strang, an attorney and professor at the University of Toledo's law school, says the incremental approach to rolling back abortion seems to be working across the country.

"At some point in the mid- to late '70s, pro-life people recognized that they were in for the long haul," he says. "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."

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that supports abortion rights, also tracks restrictions. In 2013 alone, the institute says, 22 states, including Ohio, enacted 70 provisions restricting access to abortion.

Jessie Hill, an attorney and professor at Case Western Reserve University's school of law, sits on the board of a clinic called Preterm that provides abortion services. She said various legal provisions under the public radar have been used to restrict abortions for years.

"It's hard for people to see how any one of these things in isolation impacts abortion access," Hill says. "But when they add up, they can really constitute a major burden."

Burkons says his work is very rewarding and that virtually all the women he treats are relieved and grateful.

"Nobody grows up saying, 'I'm planning on having an abortion,' " Burkons says. "And they just assume that if it does happen, someone will be here."

The clinic faced pent-up demand when Burkons started offering surgical abortions. He performed 16 of the procedures in three days.

About half of Ohio's clinics that perform abortions have closed since 2010. Counting the clinic Burkons operates, there are now nine in the state.

This story is part of NPR's reporting partnership with WCPN-Ideastream and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2015 Cleveland Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wcpn.org.

Transcript

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.

BURKONS: 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.

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