Judge blocks Ohio abortion law, clinics to remain open
Protestors rally outside of the Georgia State Capitol following the signing of HB 481, in Atlanta, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation that day banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A new lawsuit from abortion providers and advocacy groups aims to challenge this. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
COLUMBUS, Ohio - A federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected on Wednesday, siding with abortion clinics that had argued the law would effectively end the procedure in the state.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett halts the July 11 enforcement of the so-called heartbeat bill law that opponents argued would effectively ban the procedure. That's because a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant.
Ohio is among a dozen states that have considered similar legislation this year, as abortion opponents have pursued a national anti-abortion strategy to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision fueled by a conservative swing on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Courts have already blocked substantially similar laws in Kentucky and Mississippi. Abortion providers also have sued in Alabama and Georgia.
However, Barrett said it is his opinion that Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights attorneys that sued to stop the law “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,” he wrote.
Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed the Ohio law in April, after predecessor John Kasich, a fellow Republican, twice vetoed it.
His spokesman, Dan Tierney said: “Gov. DeWine has long believed that this issue would ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in an emailed statement the decision “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.”
Ohio Right to Life, the state's oldest and largest anti-abortion group, called the judge's decision disappointing but not surprising.
“The heartbeat bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade,” Mike Gonidakis, the group's president, said in a statement. “We know that this temporary restraining order is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered.”
Abortion rights advocates praised the decision.
“With Gov. DeWine's attack on abortion rights now blocked, the doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers at nine facilities across the state can continue to assist patients in safely terminating a pregnancy,” NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Deputy Director Jaime Miracle said in an emailed statement.
Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper noted that Barrett, who joined the court in 2006, was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush.
“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. The Ohio GOP is wasting taxpayer resources, and they are putting Ohioans' lives in danger with their attacks on reproductive health care.”