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Federal Judge Blocks Ohio's 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

Jim Salter
Associated Press

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Ohio's "heartbeat" abortion ban, following a lawsuit from the ACLU of Ohio. The bill was set to take effect July 10.

The law, known formally as the "Human Rights Protection Act," would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—often as early as five or six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant. The law also adds criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions after that point. It has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett, a Republican appointee, issued a preliminary rulingthat allows clinics to continue providing abortions while the legal process unfolds. His order stated that abortion rights groups "are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim that (the bill) is unconstitutional on its face."

"The law is well-settled that women possess a fundamental constitutional right of access to abortions," Barrett wrote.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says he will appeal.

The suit was brought by Preterm-Cleveland, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, Women's Med Corp, and Capital Care Network of Toledo. The groups celebrated their win Wednesday.

“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 ACLU legal director Freda Levenson in a statement.

In their lawsuit, the groups claim the the "Heartbeat Bill" would ban nearly all abortions in Ohio.

"If a woman is forced to continue a pregnancy against her will, it can pose a risk to her physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as to the stability and well-being of her family, including existing children," their lawsuit reads.

Former Gov. John Kasich twice vetoed versions of the "Heartbeat Bill," which the Ohio legislature failed to override. But as promised in his campaign, Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law in April, making Ohio the fifth state to pass such a law.

Similar restrictions have been blocked in Kentucky and Mississippi, while abortion rights groups have filed lawsuits over abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia.

Abortion opponents and Republican lawmakers said they expected a legal fight. Supporters say Ohio's law was written to provoke a U.S. Supreme Court case that ultimately could overturn “Roe v. Wade," the landmark ruling that legalized abortions up until viability.

"The heartbeat bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade," Ohio Right To Life president Mike Gonidakis said in a statement. "We know that this temporary restraining order is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered."

Under the law, doctors who perform abortions after detecting a heartbeat would face a fifth-degree felony and up to a year in prison. The law also allows disciplinary action by the State Medical Board.

“Year after year Ohio Republicans have continued to push plainly unconstitutional legislation, and now a federal judge — a Republican appointee — has blocked their latest attempt to ban abortion and punish doctors in the state,” writes Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper in a statement. “The Ohio GOP is wasting taxpayer resources, and they are putting Ohioans’ lives in danger with their attacks on reproductive health care.”

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Gabe Rosenberg
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