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ACLU Sues Ohio To Block 'Heartbeat' Abortion Ban

Originally published on May 16, 2019 5:21 am

ACLU of Ohio filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging Ohio’s recent “heartbeat” abortion ban, which was signed into law last month.

The law, known formally as the “Human Rights Protection Act,” outlaws abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. It would ban the practice as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant. It does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Planned Parenthood and other groups supporting abortion rights claim the the law would ban nearly all abortions in Ohio. The law is scheduled to take effect in July 10, unless blocked by a federal judge.

“This assault on reproductive rights has been anticipated, and we’ve been preparing and perfecting our case. ‘Total ban’ is not inflammatory rhetoric — this is a ban on almost all abortions, and if the court does not block it, it will imperil the freedoms and health of Ohio women,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, in a statement Wednesday.

Attorney General Dave Yost said Wednesday he will "vigorously" defend the law in court.

Ohio was the sixth state to pass a “Heartbeat Bill,” with Georgia following soon after. Federal judges in several others states have blocked or struck down similar laws as unconstitutional.

Wednesday's lawsuit asks for a temporary and then a permanent ban on the law taking effect, and seeks to have it declared unconstitutional.

"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," the lawsuit says.

Yost says the law is objective because it sets the standard at when a doctor can hear a heartbeat, instead of viability.

Abortion opponents say the law is intended to provoke a U.S. Supreme Court case overturning “Roe v. Wade.” That case legalized abortion up until viability, approximately between 22-24 weeks into a pregnancy.

"We believe that the heartbeat bill is the right vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Our strategy has always included a federal court challenge and today starts that judicial process," Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said Wednesday.

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

The lawsuit 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.

“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,” said a statement from Elizabeth Watson, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

Several other anti-abortion bills are currently being considered in the Ohio legislature. A House bill would ban most private insurance coverage for abortion services, and according to critics, would also ban many effective methods of birth control.

Another bill, yet to be introduced, would require doctors to provide information on how to reverse a medication abortion – a procedure that medical groups say isn’t based in science.

Ohio’s 2018 law banning the “dilation and evacuation” method of abortion, which is used most commonly after 12 weeks of pregnancy, has been blocked from taking effect by a federal judge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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