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Ohio abortion clinic helps university train doctors but can't cite its hospital as backup care

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Toledo's only remaining abortion clinic can't get a backup-care agreement from the University of Toledo Medical Center that could help it avoid a potential shutdown, but it has partnered with the public school in a different way, to train doctors in the graduate medical program.

It allows for participants to learn about the relevant counseling, assessments, surgical procedures and follow-up care, working alongside the doctor at Capital Care Network-Toledo for two or three days a week in a one-month rotation, according to the agreement signed in the spring and obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Essentially, the clinic helps the university with its required curriculum, but the medical center can't help the clinic get what it might need most — the patient-transfer agreement mandated and restricted by Ohio law and criticized by abortion-rights activists as political maneuvering targeting abortion clinics.

The clinic's doctor, David Burkons, said people from the university approached him about training residents, and he was happy to help.

"I enjoy teaching, and I think that's how you're going to get people, you know, interested in maybe doing this," Burkons said.

An accreditation council requires that the medical college's curriculum include abortion, but residents in the program can choose not to do the one-month rotation if they've reviewed pre-abortion counseling and assessments and the related law, university spokesman Jon Strunk said in a statement.

The residents are paid by the university, and there's no other financial arrangement except each side stipulating that it will provide certain insurance coverage.

Strunk said the rotation is meant to help new doctors in obstetrics and gynecology better understand psychological and medical issues that arise for patients.

The public university doesn't take a stance on abortion, Strunk said, and not having a prearranged transfer agreement wouldn't prevent the hospital from caring for someone in need.

"UTMC will in every circumstance provide medical care to any patient regardless of the reason that care is needed or the choices a patient makes prior to his or her arrival at our hospital," he wrote.

Burkons, who is involved with multiple abortion clinics, said he's had similar training arrangements with other facilities in northeast Ohio, including at least one hospital that wouldn't provide a transfer agreement for a clinic.

A provision passed last year by the Republican-dominated state Legislature bans publicly funded hospitals from having patient-transfer agreements with facilities that provide abortions. Ohio law requires such transfer agreements with local hospitals, so abortion-rights groups say the change amounts to a restriction on abortion.

Recent state budget legislation made another change, requiring that the local hospitals used for emergency patient transfers from a given abortion clinic be within 30 miles. That could be problematic for the Toledo facility, which had listed a hospital about 50 miles away in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A legal dispute over that matter is pending.

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