Fact check: Ex-Ohio health director Amy Acton has no ties to abortion charities, clinic
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton discusses the stress front-line workers may endure while on the job. Cincinnati Enquirer
The claim: Ex-Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton was an “activist” for the campaign of Barack Obama “with ties to abortion charities” who used “a duplicitous paperwork shuffle“ to keep open a Dayton abortion clinic allowed ”to abort babies up to birth.“
These claims from late 2019, written by a senior vice president of the anti-abortion rights group Operation Rescue, have gotten new life on Facebook and other social media since Acton became virtually a household name in Ohio.
Acton burst from obscurity to statewide celebrity status almost overnight for her role in Gov. Mike DeWine’s regular public briefings on the coronavirus. But not everyone shared the sentiments of the 132,000-plus in her Facebook fan club: She was harshly criticized for health orders that restricted Ohioans during the pandemic, and gun-toting protesters showed up outside her suburban Columbus 真人百家家乐官网网站home to demand the state reopen immediately.
She stepped down as health director June 11, citing pressures of the job as a factor in resigning, but is staying on at the same $236,330 annual salary as DeWine’s health adviser.
The claims appeared on LifeNews.com, which “is an independent news agency devoted to reporting news that affects the pro-life community,” per its website.
Unpacking the claims
The Facebook posts contain four basic claims. Let’s take them in order.
No. 1: Acton was an “activist” for the campaign of Barack Obama.
In March 2008, Acton (under the name Amy Beech, from a previous marriage) was featured in a Wired.com article about Barack Obama’s then-revolutionary campaign strategy to use social media and other digital tools to recruit volunteers for the Democratic primary battle with Hillary Clinton. Acton and her family were photographed around a laptop computer by former Dispatch photographer Neal Lauron.
The Wired story describes how this “part-time physician has spent the last couple of months building up her network of local Obama supports using an e-mail group she created on my.BarackObama.com called ’Bexley, Yes We Can!’ She says the group has between 40 and 50 members. Beech also maintains a separate e-mail list of friends, family and acquaintances with about 150 names.”
While the Wired account describes Acton as a “volunteer” for the Obama campaign, “activist” seems a fair description.
However, it apparently didn’t last long. Aaron Pickrell, who ran Obama’s general election effort that year in Ohio, doesn’t recall Acton being involved in the fall campaign against GOP Sen. John McCain.
Acton and her husband, Douglas Beech, filed for a dissolution of marriage on Oct. 10, 2008. The request was granted about a month later, on Nov. 12. She married Eric Acton on June 10, 2010.
While Acton took a Democratic ballot in the March 4, 2008, primary — which is how party affiliation is determined in Ohio — she did not declare a party again until the May 2018 primary, when she again obtained a Democratic ballot. DeWine was on the Republican ballot in that election. Acton also voted in the 2020 primary but only for issues, not declaring a party affiliation.
The LifeNews article said Acton’s political background “raises questions about the vetting process that DeWine’s office engaged in prior to Acton’s nomination.”
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said, “Who one supported in the 2008 campaign did not come up in her interview with the governor. It was not relevant.” Acton was the first female health director in Ohio history.
No. 2: Acton has “ties to abortion charities.”
This claim stems from Acton’s work at the Columbus Foundation, where she was a Community Research and Grants Management officer for about a year and-a-half before DeWine completed his cabinet with her selection in February 2019.
“Among the approximately 1,000 nonprofit organizations for which the Columbus Foundation solicits donations (are) Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and the NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation. These fell under the purvue (sic) of Amy Acton,” the Operation Rescue article asserts.
The Columbus Foundation recently completed its “Big Give” campaign, which raised more than $32 million for over 1,100 nonprofits. As in years past, among the potential recipients a donor could select were indeed Planned Parenthood and NARAL. But so were the Pregnancy Decision Health Centers, which has several facilities in the Columbus area that counsel against abortion, and Heartbeat International, whose stated mission is “to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations.”
Columbus Foundation officials say 96% of its donations are like these, sent to causes specified by the donor. Acton had nothing to do with where that money went.
Like other grants officers, she was part of a team primarily evaluating requests for the nondesignated 4% of donations to the foundation. Acton’s specialty was assisting 真人百家家乐官网网站homeless youth. Acton herself says she was 真人百家家乐官网网站homeless for a winter growing up in Youngstown, Ohio.
To conclude that her work at a huge foundation that gave money to organizations both advocating for and fighting against abortion shows her “ties to abortion charities” is specious at best.
No. 3. Acton used “a duplicitous paperwork shuffle“ to keep open a suburban Dayton abortion clinic.
This claim builds on the supposed bond between Acton and NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
“This connection between Acton and these two abortion organizations raises questions about Acton’s actions in the paperwork shuffle that allowed the Women’s Med Center — previously deemed ’untrustworthy’ by the (Ohio Department of Health) — to become licensed to conduct abortions after four years of litigation found that its license should be denied.”
The allegation stems from a long-running battle over Women’s Med Center in Dayton, operated by Dr. Martin Haskell — despised among many abortion rights opponents because he conducted numerous late-term procedures they dubbed “partial-birth abortions.”
More: one at the Ohio Supreme Court in August 2019. A couple of days later, Acton informed the clinic that with the high court’s ruling, its state license was finally revoked for good. Any attempt to reopen would require an application for a new license, she said.
In late October, Ohio justices turned down the clinic’s request to reconsider its 4-3 decision. Anti-abortion advocates grew hopeful that Dayton’s last facility finally would be forced to shut down. But well before than happened, the clinic did ask for a new license in late August. For the first time, it named four physicians who would serve as backup doctors. With that state requirement met, the clinic asked for a waiver of the obligation to also have a transfer agreement with a local hospital.
More: what happened in May 2016, when Hodges gave a license to a Cincinnati clinic run by Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio.
But to Operation Rescue, Acton’s action was the “duplicitous paperwork shuffle.” And that dubious claim was the basis for its leader to assert, “It is obvious that there was coordination between Acton and Haskell to pull a fast one on the people of Ohio and the attorney general’s office, which spent untold time and resources over four years to successfully enforce the original licensing denial order.”
What he failed to mention was that the Ohio attorney general — supposed victim of the “fast one” — was DeWine for all but 10 months of the four-year period.
During a press conference after being hired by DeWine in February 2019, Acton said she does not have a position on abortion, but that she would enforce Ohio law.
No. 4. The Dayton abortion clinic is allowed ”to abort babies up to birth“
A 2011 Ohio law states: “No person shall purposely perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman when the unborn child is viable.“ Exceptions are made for non-viable fetuses or if the woman would otherwise sustain ”the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.“
In 2017, another state law took effect barring abortions beyond 20 weeks past gestation, with the same general exceptions.
Thus no state license can be granted “to abort babies up to birth.”
Our ruling: Partly false
The Operation Rescue and LifeNews articles by Cheryl Sullenger — who served two years in federal prison in the late 1980s for conspiring to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic — contain an impressive amount of documentation, from court records to filings by the Ohio Department of Health. It’s in the interpretation of those legitimate sources of information where this train runs off its rails.
The only verifiable portion of the claims examined is that Acton is indeed a “former Obama activist,” at least for the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. This claim is TRUE.
Her “ties to abortion charities” shown by her work at the Columbus Foundation are so thin and speculative as to be nonexistent, so we regard that claim as FALSE.
The “duplicitous paperwork shuffle“ and supposed conspiracy with abortion clinic operators to keep a Dayton facility open are allegations without support. The relicensing of the clinic in 2019 surely frustrated if not incensed abortion rights opponents. But Acton was following the law as well as a precedent from her immediate predecessor. This claim is FALSE.
Ohio law does not allow anyone ”to abort babies up to birth,“ with rare exceptions. So Acton could not have granted a permit that allowed such a practice. This claim also is FALSE.
Overall, based on our research, we rate these claims as PARTLY FALSE.
Our fact-check sources:
- Lifenews.com - Ohio Health Dept Director Who Allowed Clinic to Abort Babies Up to Birth is Former Obama Activist
- Operation Rescue - New Ohio Department of Health Director with Ties to Abortion Charities Keeps Discredited Abortion Facility Open
- Lifenews.com - About
- Operation Rescue - About us/Who we are
- Facebook - Dr. Amy Acton Fan Club
- The Columbus Dispatch, June 12, 2020 - Dr. Amy Acton resigns as state health director; Democrats cite criticism from GOP lawmakers
- Wired.com, March 2008 - Inside Obama's Surging Net-Roots Campaign
- Franklin County clerk of courts - Dissolution of marriage
- Franklin County Probate Court - Marriage license case names
- The Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 26, 2019 - Physician Amy Acton will lead Ohio Department of Health
- Columbus Foundation - The Big Give
- Columbus Foundation Big Give - Planned Parenthood
- Columbus Foundation Big Give - NARAL
- Columbus Foundation Big Give - Pregnancy Decision Health Centers
- Pregnancy Decision Health Centers - About PDHC
- Columbus Foundation Big Give - Heartbeat International
- Heartbeat International - Our mission and vision
- The Columbus Dispatch, Aug. 24, 2019 - Ohio Supreme Court won’t hear appeal by Dayton-area abortion clinic fighting to stay open
- The Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 29, 2019 - Ohio Supreme Court again refuses to hear appeal of abortion-clinic closure order
- The Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 13, 2019 - Dayton’s last abortion clinic back in business
- The Associated Press, 5-28-16 (as published in the Akron Beacon Journal) - State grants variance request for Cincinnati abortion clinic
- Ohio Revised Code 2919.17 - Terminating or attempting to terminate human pregnancy after viability
- Ohio Revised Code 2919.201- Abortion after gestational age of 20 weeks
- Kansas City Star - Operation Rescue adviser helped Tiller suspect track doctor's court dates
Dispatch researcher Julie Fulton contributed information about Acton’s voting history to this story.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. @darreldrowland
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