ACLU Challenges Ohio Heartbeat Abortion Law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Abortion providers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday over Ohio’s new law banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which mirrors legislation passed recently in several other states.

Preterm-Cleveland, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Women’s Medical Group, Capital Care Network of Toledo and Dr. Sharon Liner contend in the 23-page lawsuit that Senate Bill 23 – which bans abortion as early as six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant – is unconstitutional.

Gov. Mike DeWine speaks before signing a bill imposing one of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions April 11, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. (Fred Squillante/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

The complaint, filed in Columbus federal court by attorneys with the ACLU of Ohio, says the legislation “criminalizes almost all previability abortions.” The providers seek to prevent the law from taking effect on July 10.

“Unless this court grants a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, and later a permanent injunction, plaintiffs will be forced to turn away patients seeking abortion care. This is a direct violation of plaintiffs’ patients’ fundamental constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion prior to viability, and causes those patients irreparable harm,” the lawsuit states.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill into law last month, breaking with his fellow Republican predecessor John Kasich, who vetoed it twice.

“Make no mistake, unless blocked by the court, this law would ban approximately 90 percent of abortions in Ohio, which would disproportionately affect people of color, people struggling financially, and young people,” Elizabeth Watson, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement Wednesday. “For over 40 years, Roe v. Wade has ensured that every person in Ohio and across the country can make the deeply personal decision about whether to become parents or grow their family without shame, obstacles, or stigma.”

Supporters of the measure – which has also been passed in several other states, including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Dakota – welcome the legal challenge from the ACLU. They want the case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“The heartbeat bill is the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement last month. “While other states embrace radical legislation to legalize abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy, Ohio has drawn a line and continues to advance protections for unborn babies.”

Governor DeWine said after signing the bill into law, “Ultimately the United States Supreme Court is going have to decide.”

The Iowa and North Dakota heartbeat laws were blocked by courts because they conflict with Roe v. Wade, and the Supreme Court decided against hearing the case challenging North Dakota’s law.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the Peach State’s fetal-heartbeat abortion bill into law last week.

On Tuesday night, the Alabama Senate passed the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill, criminalizing the procedure as a felony, in an attempt to create another test case to challenge Roe v. Wade.

The Ohio heartbeat law makes no exceptions for cases for rape or incest, although it does provide exceptions for the pregnant woman’s life. It authorizes the use of transvaginal ultrasounds to detect fetal heartbeats, which allow the heartbeats to be detected earlier in a pregnancy.

It also adds criminal penalties for doctors or other medical professionals who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected or who do not perform either an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound before performing an abortion.

“At six weeks, most people don’t even know they’re pregnant,” Kersha Deibel, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said in a statement. “We’re challenging this law because it would take away a person’s right to make their own medical decisions before they even know they have a decision to make.”

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is named as a defendant in Wednesday’s lawsuit along with Department of Health Director Amy Acton, state medical board officials and various county prosecutors.

Preterm-Cleveland is represented by the ACLU and ACLU of Ohio. Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio are represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Gerhardstein & Branch of Cincinnati. Women’s Med Group and Capital Care Network of Toledo are represented by Gerhardstein & Branch.

In Iowa, Des Moines-based Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued Governor Kim Reynolds and two state agencies on Wednesday to block enforcement of legislation that bars the clinic from receiving state grants to offer sex-education classes in the Hawkeye State.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland says the new law effectively singles out the organization and will cost it about $268,000 in state grant funding for its sex-education programs, or 28% of its Iowa education budget.

Rox Laird contributed to this report.

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