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Clinics urge Ohio Supreme Court to block six-week abortion ban

The ACLU and a group of abortion providers want the state justices to prevent enforcement of Senate Bill 23, which outlaws abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, normally around six weeks of pregnancy.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Ohio abortion providers fighting to block enforcement of legislation passed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade sued the Republican attorney general in the state's high court, claiming the law "has now decimated abortion access" in the Buckeye State.

Preterm-Cleveland, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU petitioned the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday for a writ of mandamus to declare Senate Bill 23 unconstitutional because it discriminates against women and serves no legitimate government interest.

Following last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Ohio legislators moved quickly to make SB 23 law and instituted a ban on abortions after the detection of "embryonic cardiac activity," typically around six weeks from the first day of a woman's last menstrual period.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, filed a motion within an hour of the Dobbs decision to dissolve an injunction that previously prevented enforcement of SB 23.

As a result, SB 23 went into effect on the night of June 24, the same day the Dobbs decision was released.

Previously, pregnant women in Ohio could obtain an abortion up until 22 weeks gestational age.

Wednesday's lawsuit says most women do not even realize they are pregnant at the six-week mark, and the abortion providers claim "this near-total ban on abortion denies Ohioans their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution."

“This sweeping measure, which prevents nearly every pregnant person from accessing essential care, is blatantly unconstitutional under Ohio’s state constitution which has broad protections for individual liberties," said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

"We ask the Ohio Supreme Court to stop enforcement of Senate Bill 23," Levenson added. "Absent action from the court, many Ohioans will be forced to give birth against their will, many will have illegal or dangerous abortions, and some will die. People of color and low-income communities, who comprise the majority of patients seeking abortions, will be disproportionately impacted."

The ACLU and the clinics argue the Ohio Constitution creates a right to abortion through the establishment of an individual's rights to "reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity."

The complaint says SB 23 is unconstitutional not only because it discriminates against women, but also as a result of the Ohio Legislature's failure to identify a compelling governmental interest advanced by the law.

Yost and the state argue SB 23 protects the health of women throughout the state and the health of fetal life, points hotly disputed by the abortion providers.

"First, banning access to abortion, a safe and common medical procedure, does nothing to protect women's health," the complaint says. "Regardless of the weight accorded the state's interest in protecting the health of the woman, the state simply cannot show that a ban on abortion starting as early as six weeks actually advances that interest in any way -- to the contrary, it undermines the interest."

As for protecting fetal life, the abortion providers argue such an early ban on abortions equates to the state having an interest in preventing all abortions.

"An interest in protecting fetal life starting before many women even know they are pregnant is the functional equivalent of an interest in preventing nearly all abortion, and thus an interest in stripping the vast majority of women of their fundamental right to choose," the complaint says. (Emphasis in original)

Despite having the force of law for less than a week, representatives from the ACLU claim the effects of SB 23 have been felt throughout the state.

“Right now, Ohio patients seeking care beyond six weeks are forced to travel hundreds of miles to access abortion, carry pregnancies to term against their will, or seek care outside the medical system," said Jessie Hill, attorney for the ACLU of Ohio. "Senate Bill 23 was blocked for nearly three years, and after being in effect for just a few days, the real-world ramifications are horrific. This law must be stopped."

The lawsuit emphasized Ohio could use far less restrictive means to promote its interests in protecting the lives of pregnant women and their unborn children.

"For example, the state could provide pregnant women with access to regular reproductive and prenatal health care, promote prenatal care by expanding access to medical insurance, and/or provide financial assistance for prenatal vitamins and nutritious meals," the complaint states. "Such measures would do far more to advance the health of pregnant women without depriving them of a fundamental right."

The lawsuit was filed by Levenson and Hill, and names Yost, the Ohio Department of Health, and the State Medical Board of Ohio as defendants, among others.

Yost's response to the suit was brief and blunt.

"Races don't start at the finish line, and lawsuits don't start in the final court," he said. "Aside from filing the wrong action in the wrong court, they are wrong as well on Ohio law. Abortion is not in the Ohio Constitution." 

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