COLUMBUS, Ohio - A federal judge has temporarily blocked Ohio's ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett in Cincinnati granted a preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 23 on Wednesday. In a 12-page order, Barrett, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, concluded Ohio abortion clinics challenging the law were likely to prevail.
“This court concludes that SB 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.
The law, passed by Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, would have penalized doctors who performed abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected – as early as six weeks gestation with a transvaginal ultrasound.
Barrett noted that six weeks gestation is just two weeks after a woman's missed menstrual period, and attorneys for the state did not provide testimony that viability exists at that stage.
“A woman with irregular periods likely will be denied the opportunity to seek an abortion altogether because she will not realize that she is pregnant in time to choose her fate,” Barrett wrote.
The law was set to take effect July 11 but is now unenforceable while being challenged in court. The ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood brought the lawsuit on behalf of Preterm-Cleveland and other Ohio abortion providers.
"Ohioans deserve access to abortion that is safe, affordable, and without shame or judgment," Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm-Cleveland, an abortion clinic in Ohio, said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for all women and people who can become pregnant to have access to abortion care, to make the decisions they believe are best for their lives, and to build communities where each of us can participate with dignity and respect."
One of the nation's most restrictive abortion bans, the so-called "heartbeat bill" is meant to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights decision from 1973.
Arguments for that debate, Barrett wrote, need to be made to a higher court.
Mike Gonidakis, president of anti-abortion organization Ohio Right to Life, said the temporary block was disappointing but not a surprise.
“The heartbeat bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade," Gonidakis said in a statement. "We know that this temporary restraining order is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered."
Crafted in Ohio, this abortion ban has passed in eight other states. Six states passed the law this year, and Alabama went one step further by outlawing all abortions.
To date, no "heartbeat bill" abortion ban has taken effect because they have been blocked by lawsuits. Opponents of Roe v. Wade are looking for a split in lower court decisions to bring the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Proponents of the heartbeat bill say it's a better standard than the one set by Roe v. Wade: viability. Opponents say the legislation takes reproductive decisions away from women and forces them to continue unwanted pregnancies.
Under the law, doctors would face a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in prison for performing an abortion after detecting a heartbeat. The bill has an exception to save the life of the woman but no exception for rape or incest – in line with current state law.
If allowed to take effect, the abortion ban would outlaw thousands of procedures each year. In 2017, 9,109 abortions – 43.6 percent of all abortions in the state – occurred after nine weeks gestation, according to Ohio Department of Health records.
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This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Federal judge blocks Ohio's 'heartbeat bill' abortion ban