The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction on Friday, blocking an Ohio law that bans abortions after an indication that the unborn child has Down syndrome.
Ohio law HB 214 prohibits any person from performing an abortion on a pregnant woman with knowledge that she is having the abortion due, in whole or in part, to any type of indication that the unborn child has Down syndrome. The penalty is the charge of a felony of the fourth degree, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and for a performing physician, revocation of their license to practice and potential civil liability. Under the law, the pregnant woman, herself is not punished for seeking the abortion.
The plaintiffs filed their suit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in February 2018, alleging that the law violates patients’ constitutional rights to liberty and privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment because it bases the prohibition on the woman’s reason for seeking the abortion. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction declaring the law unconstitutional and enjoining the state actors from enforcing the law. The district court granted the injunction on the theory that Roe v. Wade clearly gives a woman the pre-viability right to choose if she wants to terminate or carry on with the pregnancy.
In the appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Defendants argued that Roe did not give an “absolute” right to abortion for any reason. They argued that there is a state interest in preventing discrimination based on a disability. The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is a fundamental right but “is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” The court cited precedent under Roe and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey that shows “that a law which furthers a state’s interest in protecting the women’s health or potential life, ‘may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.'” The court viewed the state’s expressed interest in preventing discrimination in the case as intertwined with the same state interest in potential life discussed in Roe and Casey.
The appeals court concluded that the state’s interest in preventing discrimination is not compelling until viability of the unborn child. The Sixth Circuit found that the district court’s grant of the injunction was appropriate and affirmed the decision.