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Court blocks Ohio's abortion ban and puts it on hold indefinitely

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Hamilton County Court
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ZOOM
Hamilton County court room

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins said he believes the state's "heartbeat" act which bans abortion at the point fetal cardiac activity can be detected, as early as 6 weeks into a pregnancy, violates Ohio's constitution.

He has put that law on hold indefinitely.

Ohio will appeal the ruling which comes after hours of testimony over how the abortion ban is affecting the rights and health of Ohioans.

In rendering his ruling, Jenkins said he believes the state constitution affords some protections that protect the right to an abortion.

Abortion clinics argued in a Hamilton County court Friday that Ohio's new abortion ban — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — violated the state's constitution.

The hearing took place after Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins put a hold on Ohio's abortion ban, which is set to lift on October 12. The state law prohibits abortion at the point fetal cardiac activity can be detected.

Dr. Sharon Liner, the medical director for Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, told the court that in the two months that the 'heartbeat' law was in effect (June 24 to September 14), doctors in her organization didn't perform any abortions under the exceptions in the law.

Liner was one of the doctors who said, in an affidavit filed with the court, that hundreds of patients who sought abortions had been turned away from the clinics during the period the ban was in place.

She said the state's ban threatened the physical and mental health of patients, including a woman who could not get immediate treatment for cancer, a woman whose fetus had severe fetal anomalies, and three patients who threatened suicide.

Liner said the patients had to go out of state to get abortions.

Dr. Steven Ralston, the director of the obstetric care unit at the University of Maryland School of Medicine — who doesn't practice medicine in Ohio — told the court an abortion is far safer than the risk of giving birth.

He said the procedure used in abortion is the same one that's often used in treating women who have had miscarriages, using the same medications, the same techniques and the only difference is the condition of a fetus prior to the procedure.

The state's new abortion law provides an exception if the life of the mother is in danger or if carrying the pregnancy would result in a serious risk of substantial, irreversible impairment to a major bodily function.

But Ralston testified the new law is vague. And because of that, he said doctors are afraid to provide an abortion in a situation that could qualify as an exception.

"They are very worried about this. These are their medical licenses and their livelihoods that are on the line. These are usually the major bread winners in their families. They are paying for mortgages, paying for tuitions for their families, and risking their careers for this issue is really difficult for doctors," Ralston said.

Dr. Dennis Sullivan, a retired doctor, but not an OB-GYN, has served as a professor of Pharmacy Practice at Cedarville University. Sullivan, who also serves as the director of Cedarville's Center for Bioethics, testified that life begins at conception so there is an ethical consideration at stake. So, he said there is a moral issue that needs to be considered where abortion is concerned.

"That nobody knows when human life begins is patently false. It is clear in biology, particularly embryology," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he believes the state's "heartbeat" law is reasonable. He said there are some conditions, like pregnancies that develop in fallopian tubes (ectopic pregnancies), that are a terminal condition and abortion is justified in those cases "to protect the life of the mother."

Dr. Michael Parker, an OG-GYN who practices in the Columbus area, testified the exceptions in the "heartbeat" law are sufficient to protect patients.

But he said many of the problems his patients have, like preeclampsia, don't surface until the later stages of pregnancy, after 20 weeks into a pregnancy. And Ohio law has a 22-week ban on the books right now, regardless of what happens with the six-week ban.

The question at the heart of this case is whether the ban is unconstitutional. The ban will be on hold until at least October 12 but if this court rules in favor of abortion clinics, the state will likely appeal and that challenge could go to the Republican-dominated Ohio Supreme Court.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.
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