COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As Ohio voters cast early ballots ahead of November’s election, political advertisers are stepping up efforts to get their messages across.
One ad, paid for by an anti-abortion political committee, could prompt legal action from an Ohio doctor.
Protect Women Ohio is the main group opposed to Issue 1, which would enshrine the right to an abortion in Ohio’s constitution. Their 30-second televised ad titled “He’s Back” singles the doctor out, making multiple claims about him and Issue 1.
“Martin Haskell invented partial birth abortions in Ohio,” the ad begins, with a narrator speaking over a photo of Dr. Martin Haskell, an Ohio abortion care provider who for decades has been on the radar of anti-abortion groups.
The term “partial birth abortion” is not a medical term. It was first coined in the 1990’s by the National Right to Life Committee to refer to a procedure called “Dilation and Extraction.” The anti-abortion group started using the term in response to a paper Haskell wrote and presented to the National Abortion Federation, describing a variation he developed for an abortion procedure that already existed. Haskell wrote that the procedure is for second-trimester abortions, but can be used during the third trimester of pregnancy.
The narrator in the ad also claims, “(Haskell’s) clinics were unsafe. A bipartisan coalition stopped him.”
The Ohio Department of Health closed Haskell’s clinic in the Cincinnati area in 2014 because it did not meet newly-imposed requirements to establish transfer agreements with hospitals.
In a cease and desist letter sent this week to Protect Women Ohio, Haskell’s attorney calls the claim in the ad false and defamatory, and the requirements that led to the closure political and not reflective of the clinics “extraordinary” safety record.
“The legal abortions performed at Dr. Haskell’s clinics are one of the safest and most common procedures in contemporary medicine,” the letter says. “The vast majority of the rare complications from abortion are minor and are treated successfully in an outpatient setting.”
Haskell remains a licensed physician in Ohio and operates a clinic near Dayton.
“For 20 years, Haskell’s painful late-term procedures have been illegal,” the ad’s narrator says.
Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003, banning Dilation and Extraction. The ban remains in effect today, except when the pregnant person’s life is endangered.
“Now, (Haskell) is back,” the narrator continues. “Contributing six figures to pass Issue 1.”
According to campaign finance records kept by Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office, Haskell donated $100,000 dollars in March to the main group supporting Issue 1.
The narrator concludes, “Issue 1 would guarantee Haskell, and men like him, the constitutional right to perform unlimited late term abortions. Vote no on Issue 1.”
The proposed amendment specifically mentions the right of an individual to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” and says abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability unless a doctor deems it necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.
Protect Women Ohio argues the word “health” can be broadly interpreted.
“It could mean her emotional health, financial health, social health, mental health,” said Protect Women Ohio spokeswoman Amy Natoce in a September interview with NBC4. “That is a tremendous loophole that leaves open pretty much any reason at all for performing a late term abortion.”
Those supporting Issue 1 call that claim misleading and say health decisions should be left up to a patient and their doctor.
Haskell declined an interview, citing safety concerns. According to the cease and desist letter, he no longer performs surgical abortions and has not done so in two years. The letter also accuses Protect Women Ohio of copyright violations for using his photo in the ad.
Asked for their response to the letter, Natoce provided a copy of the group’s reply to Haskell’s attorneys.
“PWO’s advertisements are not false, misleading, or defamatory against Haskell, nor does their use of his image infringe upon his alleged copyright. To the contrary, they provide an accurate account of Haskell’s career and contribution to history. If Haskell considers those facts ‘injurious’ to his reputation, he should reflect upon what he has done with his life. We sincerely pray that he does. In the meantime, PWO will continue its lawful efforts to defeat the abortion amendment,” the letter says.