Federal Judge Blocks Ohio Heartbeat Abortion Law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the enforcement of an Ohio law banning abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett in Columbus issued a preliminary injunction, finding that it was in the public’s interest to uphold the status quo absent medical or other legitimate health concerns behind the law, which was set to take effect July 10.

Senate Bill 23 would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks – before many women even realize they are pregnant. It mirrors legislation passed in several other states.

“This court concludes that S.B. 23 places an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to choose a pre-viability abortion, and … plaintiffs are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim,” Barrett wrote in a 12-page order.

Pro-abortion rights advocates lauded the decision.

“Today the court has upheld the clear law: women in Ohio (and across the nation) have the constitutional right to make this deeply personal decision about their own bodies without interference from the state,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said in a statement. (Parentheses in original.)

Represented by ACLU attorneys, 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 filed the lawsuit in May claiming SB 23 is unconstitutional.

Supporters of the measure – which has also been passed in other states, including Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Dakota – welcomed 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 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 in May.

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.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost is named as a defendant in the 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 also represented by Gerhardstein & Branch.

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