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Federal judge temporarily blocks Ohio's 'Heartbeat Bill' from going into effect

Posted: 3:52 PM, Jul 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-03 16:53:16-04
Federal courthouse in Cincinnati

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A temporary restraining order was issued by a federal judge in Ohio Wednesday that prohibits the state’s abortion ban, more commonly known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” from going into effect.

Senate Bill 23 was passed by the Ohio Senate on April 10, 2019. Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill into law the following day, with an effective start date of July 11.

The bill makes it a crime to have an abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

Right now, abortions in Ohio are legal until about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, the point at which a fetus is generally considered viable. Under SB 23, that changes to approximately six weeks into a pregnancy, or about the gestational age at which a fetal heartbeat is detectable.

In addition to banning abortions after the detection of a heartbeat, the bill would also make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions after that point, unless there is a medical emergency that risks the life of the woman. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

In a document filed Wednesday, a federal judge responded to a lawsuit and request for preliminary injunction filed by Preterm Cleveland, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, and other groups who sued the state for its passage of SB 23.

The federal judge considered four factors before deciding to grant the injunction: whether the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit against the state have a strong likelihood of success in overturning the law, whether the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury without the injunction, whether issuance of the injunction would cause substantial harm to others, and whether the public interest would be served by issuance of the injunction.

The judge determined these four standards were met.

According to the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett, “the law is well-settled that women possess a fundamental constitutional right of access to abortions” in accordance with a precedent set with Roe vs. Wade. Therefore, based on precedent, the judge stated that the plaintiffs would likely have success in overturning the law.

The order states that the bill places "undue burden on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion, and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the purpose or effect of the provision is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus gains viability.”

The law, if allowed to go into effect as passed, would prevent nearly all abortions in Ohio, according to the order.

Woman who has “highly regular periods would only have two weeks, at most, to learn that she is pregnant and decide whether to have an abortion and seek and obtain abortion care,” according to the order. Additionally, “a woman with irregular periods will likely be denied the opportunity to seek an abortion altogether because she will not realize that she is pregnant in time to choose her fate.”

The order called the odds of a woman freely having an abortion if the law were to take effect, “insurmountable.”

The judge determined that because the law would prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to reproductive freedom, that the denial of the injunction would cause irreparable injury to women in Ohio.

The judge determined that the State's interests are not strong enough to support prohibition of abortion before viability of the fetus, and the injunction would preserve the status quo of the last 40-plus years since Roe vs. Wade was decided.

Finally, the judge determined that the public interest is promoted by enforcement of constitutional rights, and it is in the public's interest to uphold these rights.

Because all four factors in determining the injunction weighed in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge decided to issue the injunction preventing enforcement of SB 23.

While the temporary restraining order was granted, the state has until August 12 to file a response to the lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs.

“This was anticipated," stated Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. "Casey’s elastic legal standard is ripe for review. This office will fulfill its duty to defend the laws passed by the elected representatives in the General Assembly.” Yost is referring to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa vs. Casey, a 1992 case that ruled unconstitutional regulations that impose an undue burden on a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

“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. This would ban nearly all abortions by preventing people from obtaining care at about 6 weeks - a time when many women do not even realize they may be pregnant. Abortion bans like this one have been blocked across the country by numerous courts,” said Freda Levenson, Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio.

“While it is certainly disappointing that Judge Barrett would issue a temporary restraining order, it is certainly not surprising,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “The Heartbeat Bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade. We know that this temporary restraining order is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered.”

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