Faith Adams of Bangor, Maine, kneels in prayer at a praise and worship service outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on June 27, days after the court ruled to overturn the Roe vs. Wade abortion case. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 14 (UPI) -- A judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Ohio's ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, handing abortion providers a rare legal victory over the controversial medical procedure following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.
The temporary injunction allows medical professionals to immediately resume performing abortions under the state's old law that permitted the procedure up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. While the injunction lasts at least the next 14 days, abortion providers have called on the court to make the block a preliminary injunction amid ongoing litigation over the law, known as Senate Bill 23.
"We're grateful that, for now, Ohioans can, once again, widely access abortion care in their own state. But this is the first step," state abortion providers and their legal representation, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a joint statement.
The ruling comes in a case filed earlier this month by the ACLU and others against the state's so-called Heartbeat Act, which Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, signed into law in 2019. It was blocked by an injunction until June 24, when the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 ruling that provided the medical practice with federal protections.
The law went into effect banning the termination of a pregnancy following the detection of fetus cardiac activity, which generally occurs around the sixth week often before the patient knows they are pregnant. Those who perform an abortion under the law could face felony charges.
The ACLU filed its complaint against the law Sept. 2, arguing the ban violates the state's constitution, which Hamilton County Judge Christian Jenkins agreed with.
In his 22-page ruling Wednesday, Jenkins issued his temporary injunction as the plaintiffs were "substantially likely prevail on the merits" of their case as Ohio's constitution maintains a fundamental right to abortion.
"No great stretch is required to find that Ohio law recognizes a fundamental right to privacy, procreation, bodily integrity and freedom of choice in healthcare decision making," he wrote.
S.B. 23 also fails under close scrutiny, he said, as it is not narrowly tailored, and inflicts irreparable harm against plaintiffs and their patients, he said.
The plaintiffs provided the court with affidavits recounting patients who were harmed by the six-week ban, including a 25-year-old woman suffering from cancer whose chemotherapy treatment was halted when she found out she was pregnant. At eight weeks since her last menstrual cycle, the unnamed woman was forced to travel out of state to receive an abortion due to the ban.
A high-school-aged patient was also hospitalized on suicide watch after being turned away due to S.B. 23. And a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion when she was six weeks, three days pregnant after she sought one in Ohio.
"S.B. 23 clearly discriminates against pregnant women and places an enormous burden on them to secure safe and effective healthcare, such that it violates Ohio's Equal Protection and Benefit Clause and is therefore unconstitutional," Jenkins said.
Other factors in support of the injunctive relief include that the public interest is served when they can receive timely healthcare from physicians exercising their medical judgment without fear of criminal prosecution.
The injunction relief will also prevent suicides, unnecessary injuries and deaths of pregnant woman who seek abortions from unlicensed providers, he said.
Ohio Right to Life, the state's oldest anti-abortion group, lambasted the ruling Wednesday while assuring supporters that they will continue to work to make Ohio "abortion free."
"Nowhere in the Ohio Constitution or anywhere in the Ohio Revised Code will any Ohioan find supporting evidence that Ohio's current heartbeat law is anything other than good law, which saves lives," Michael Gonidakis, Ohio Right to Life president, said in a statement. "We are more than confident that the heartbeat law will go back into effect relatively soon."
The ruling comes as Republican-led states have sought to ban and restrict abortion following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, including 13 states that had so-called trigger laws on the books in anticipation that one day the more than 50-year precedent would be repealed.
Abortion providers and civil and women's rights groups have repeatedly filed lawsuits against these moves, which have ignited protracted litigation.
On Tuesday, West Virginia became the second state to pass a near total abortion ban while Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, introduced federal legislation to ban abortions after 15 weeks.
The ACLU along with the plaintiffs in the Ohio case and their other legal representation said they will continue to fight to ensure access to the medical practice in the state.
"State lawmakers will stop at nothing to try again to permanently restrict our reproductive rights; their cruelty knows no bounds," they said. "We remain intensely committed to defending against any and all attempts to limit Ohioan's constitutional right to access the full range of reproductive healthcare in their home state."