By Dave Andrusko
Following a two day hearing last week, Clare Deitchman, an administrative law judge for the Indiana state health department, has a month to decide whether to grant the Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend’s appeal of the State Health Department’s rejection of its license application.
If the abortion clinic ultimately wins, it will offer chemical abortions (“medication-induced abortions”) to women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant.
But Deitchman’s decision is likely only the first step. As the South Bend Tribune’s Ted Booker reported, Deitchman
will issue a ‘recommended order’ that can be objected to within 30 days of her decision.
The order would be final if there isn’t an objection. But if there is, the matter would be decided on by a three-member panel appointed by the health department. The panel would include a judge and two state health board members.
And if a panel rules on the case, its decision could be contested in civil court.
As Booker explained, the appeal was filed by the parent company, the Texas-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance last January.
The nonprofit has challenged the health department’s conclusion that it failed to meet requirements of having “reputable and responsible character” and that it “failed to disclose, concealed, or omitted information related to additional clinics.”
The case is complicated. Amy Hagstrom Miller has non-profit abortion clinics in Austin, Texas, and Charlottesville, Virginia.
Hagstrom Miller also owns Whole Woman’s Health LLC, a management company, “which provides contractual services, such as accounting and marketing, for the for-profit and nonprofit clinics,” Booker reported,” as well as six for-profit clinics.
When the health department asked the nonprofit to identify “affiliate” organizations as part of the license application, the six for-profit clinics weren’t listed.
The department, which was concerned about past violations at the for-profit clinics, has argued that they are affiliated with the nonprofit clinics and should have been listed. That was why the department rejected the application.
“We allege that the entities are under common control of one individual — Amy Hagstrom Miller,” said Rebecca Brelage, lead counsel for the health department, in her closing argument.
Dipti Singh, the nonprofit’s lead counsel, “said Hagstrom Miller’s for-profit clinics are not affiliated with the nonprofit because it has no owners and is governed by a board that supervises Hagstrom Miller,” according to Booker’s reporting.
In a press release issued last October, St. Joseph County Right to Life and Indiana Right to Life explained that St. Joseph County had been abortion-free since Dr. Ulrich Klopfer, the abortionist who had his medical license suspended for health and safety violations, ceased doing abortions there in November 2015.
“Abortion activists in South Bend have been voicing their desire for an abortion facility in town since Klopfer’s closure, so it’s not surprising they lured a business to attempt to locate there,” said Mike Fichter, President and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. “Abortion data from 2016 shows us that abortions on St. Joseph County women were down nearly 50 percent from 2015, the last year Klopfer did abortions in South Bend. In 2016 when women had to travel out of town instead of just down the street for an abortion, they had more time to consider the positive alternatives to abortion, and seek help from free resources like South Bend’s local pregnancy resource centers. ”
The Indiana State Department of Health’s 2016 annual abortion report shows that 161 abortions were performed on women from St. Joseph County in 2016 at Indiana abortion facilities, compared to 312 abortions the prior year. In 2015, there were 578 abortions done in St. Joseph County (includes non-resident women).