Home Law Ohio ACLU files lawsuit against state over Down syndrome abortion ban

Ohio ACLU files lawsuit against state over Down syndrome abortion ban

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A gavel outside the Ohio Supreme Court. Photo via Sam Howzit on Flickr.

If House Bill 214 takes effect, doctors would be charged with a fourth-degree felony and would lose their medical licenses in Ohio if they performed an abortion on a patient after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit Feb. 15 challenging the implementation of Ohio House Bill 214. The bill, which would criminalize abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in December of last year and is scheduled to take effect next month.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. court in Cincinnati on behalf of Preterm Cleveland and several other abortion clinics in the state. The ACLU is arguing that the law would violate the Fourteenth Amendment and is asking the court to issue a permanent injunction.

The ACLU previously submitted a statement against the bill when it was being debated.

If House Bill 214 takes effect, doctors would be charged with a fourth-degree felony and would lose their medical licenses in Ohio if they performed an abortion on a patient after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. However, women receiving abortions after a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis would face no criminal charges.

Bennett Guess, the executive director of ACLU Ohio, said the bill interferes with the rights of female patients, particularly their relationship with their doctor.

“House Bill 214 is blatantly unconstitutional and yet another in a long succession of crass attempts by Ohio politicians to restrict a woman’s right to control her own body,” Guess said.

“It fundamentally intervenes in the patient-doctor relationship, which is critical to the honest, informed conversations that a woman needs when making decisions about her life, health and pregnancy.”

Executive director for Preterm Chrisse France also defended patient’s rights in a statement for the ACLU.

“When a woman has decided to end a pregnancy, she deserves care without judgment. Politicians should stop trying to prevent Ohio women from making thoughtful decisions about growing their families,” France said.

Previously, primary sponsor Rep. Derek Merrin said the bill was meant to support people with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

“Whether a child should live or die should not be determined by their natural-born appearance, physical characteristics, disability, or the diagnosis of a genetic condition,” Merrin said. “As a legislature, we have the opportunity to send a powerful and clear message to the Down syndrome community: we support you, we value you, and we seek to protect you.”

However, Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement that the bill would not provide any concrete support to Ohioans with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

“If Ohio politicians wanted to proactively take a stance for people with disabilities, they should improve access to health care, education, or other services,” Levenson said.  

This is not the first time a law trying to ban abortion after certain fetal diagnoses has been challenged at the state level. In 2016, an Indiana law seeking to ban abortions sought out due to fetal abnormalities was blocked in federal court, and was permanently struck down in September of last year. Guess believes that this previous decision will benefit the ACLU going forward.

“We are confident that federal law is on our side,” Guess said, “This bad legislation must not become law in Ohio, even for a single day, which is why we have moved so quickly to challenge its enforcement.”

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