ACLU Challenges Ohio’s Down Syndrome Abortion Law

CINCINNATI (CN) – Abortion providers backed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union sued Ohio officials on Thursday over a new law banning women from getting abortions if their fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Abortion clinic Preterm-Cleveland is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the head of the Ohio Department of Health and other state officials over House Bill 214, which Governor John Kasich signed into law late last year. It goes into effect in March.

Preterm-Cleveland’s complaint, filed in Cincinnati federal court, says the law exposes doctors and medical professional to the threat of felony charges if they attempt to end a pregnancy when there is a sign the fetus has Down syndrome.

Preterm-Cleveland is joined in the lawsuit by two Planned Parenthood entities in Ohio, Cincinnati-based Women’s Med Group and Dr. Roslyn Kade, an abortion doctor. They are represented by lead attorney B. Jessie Hill with the ACLU of Ohio.

Ohio Republicans say they enacted the law to protect people with disabilities, but pro-abortion rights advocates have called it a brazen maneuver to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.

The abortion providers say that while the law strips women of the ability to end their pregnancies, it “provides not one whit of support for children and adults with Down syndrome, or for their parents.”

“By striking at the very heart of the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy and autonomy, H.B. 214 imposes an unconstitutional undue burden on the abortion right,” the lawsuit states.

The providers seek a court injunction that prevents H.B. 214’s enforcement.

Down syndrome is a condition in which a baby has an extra copy of a chromosome. Infants are usually born with 46 chromosomes, and the extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21, causes developmental disabilities in the body and brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,000 babies are born each year with Down syndrome. The condition occurs in close to 1 out of every 700 infants.

Ohio became the third state to enact a Down syndrome abortion ban after Indiana and North Dakota passed similar laws. A federal judge permanently struck down several parts of Indiana’s law last September. The case is currently before the Seventh Circuit.

Noting that Governor Kasich had signed 18 other abortion restrictions into law, ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson called the Down syndrome law “another thinly veiled attempt to push abortion out of reach and interfere in a woman’s personal decision.”

“Let’s make one thing clear: This law does nothing to honor or support families who decide to bring a special needs child into the world,” Levenson said in a statement. “It does not improve access to health care, education, or other services, nor does it do anything to address discrimination against people with disabilities.”

Ohio Right to Life said the ACLU’s lawsuit sent a clear signal that the civil rights group does “not care for the youngest of each new generations: the unborn.”

“It is a shame that an organization that claims to be the very biggest and best at defending victims of discrimination completely disregards the most vulnerable members of our society who are being discriminated against,” said the group’s president Mike Gonidakis. “The ACLU is hurting Ohio by constantly suing to further an extremist agenda.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney said DeWine’s office would respond in court and deferred comment to the Ohio Department of Health.

Kasich’s office and the Ohio Department of Health did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

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