Federal judge blocks Ohio’s down-syndrome abortion ban

Federal judge blocks Ohio’s down-syndrome abortion ban

The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] on Wednesday granted [order, PDF] a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Ohio’s recently proposed HB 214 [text, PDF], a bill which criminalizes the performance of an abortion procedure where a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is partly or wholly motivated by a diagnosis of Down syndrome of the fetus.

Under the bill, a physician who performs or attempts to perform an abortion following a diagnosis of Down syndrome will be committing a fourth-degree felony and will have his or her physician’s license to practice revoked. The law would also open up these physicians to civil liability for damages sustained by the abortion or attempted abortion. However, the bill does not subject a woman who undergoes an abortion procedure under these circumstances to a criminal violation.

The ACLU, Planned Parenthood [advocacy websites] and the Gerhardstein & Branch [official website] law firm challenged [JURIST report] the law on Fourteenth Amendment [PDF, GPO backgrounder] grounds, arguing that the bill “undermines [physicians’] mission to honor and support the decisions theirs patients make, whether it is to continue or end a pregnancy.” Judge Timothy Black agreed concluding:

As the top law enforcement official in the nation, United States Attorney General, Jefferson B. Sessions III, forcefully reminded the country recently, in a different context: “Federal law is the law of the land.” … And federal law is crystal clear: “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.” Here, Ohio’s new law wrongfully does just that: it violates the right to privacy of every woman in Ohio and is unconstitutional on its face. … Because H.B. 214 prevents certain women from choosing to terminate a pregnancy pre-viability, and because “the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure,” H.B. 214 is unconstitutional.

In so concluding, the court rejected the state’s suggestion that Planned Parenthood v. Casey only applies to women who accidentally become pregnant or that a woman’s right to choose only applies to the question of whether she can have a child as opposed to the “right to decide whether to have a particular child.” The court added that a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy pre-viability is “categorical” and that the “State cannot dictate what factors a woman is permitted to consider in making her choice. The State’s attempt to carve out exceptions to a categorical right where none exist fails as a matter of law … The State’s argument that a woman must make this choice from behind a veil of ignorance, oblivious to the circumstances of the child she is carrying, finds no support in the law.”

The plaintiff and its attorneys welcomed the judgment [press release] stating: “The court rightfully saw through Ohio lawmakers’ thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion and interfere in a woman’s personal health decisions. We are committed to making sure this unconstitutional law is never enforced and today’s ruling brings us one step closer.”