ACLU, Planned Parenthood file lawsuit over Ohio’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2018 file photo, a doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman at a hospital in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics sued Wednesday to thwart Ohio's latest and most restrictive abortion law, an anticipated move that's part of a national anti-abortion strategy to challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The lawsuit is similar to legal fights in several southern states that recently passed similar, or more aggressive, legislation to push the now-conservative-leaning Supreme Court to take up abortion and overturn the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

Wednesday's 23-page lawsuit filed in federal court in Columbus by groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights attorneys says banning abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat is unconstitutional and would prohibit nearly all abortions in Ohio, or as many as nine of every ten.

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A detectable heartbeat can come as early as five or six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant. The Ohio law makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine last month.

The CEO and President of Ohio's Planned Parenthood, Iris Harvey, attacked the governor for signing the bill.

"If you take away a woman's fundamental autonomy about her body and how she can raise a family — if she can raise a family — then I say no, you don't care about women you pretend to," Harvey said.

DeWine's office issued a statement about the lawsuit:

"This is an expected development. Governor DeWine has long said that this issue will ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court."

The lawsuit asks for a temporary and then permanent ban on the law taking effect, and to have it declared unconstitutional.

Legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States and is substantially safer than continuing a pregnancy to childbirth, the lawsuit said.

"If a woman is forced to continue a pregnancy against her will, it can pose a risk to her physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as to the stability and well-being of her family, including existing children," according to the lawsuit.

Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm-Cleveland, one of the abortion clinics that filed the lawsuit, said the law is an attack on women.

"This unconscionable abortion ban is denying every woman and person that seeks out abortion care the empathy, compassion, safety and respect they deserve," France said.

The state will "vigorously" defend the law, GOP Attorney General David Yost said Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood says it won't abandon those women who want to end their pregnancy.

"We will lock arms and lock systems and make sure women get from one place to another to get the care that they need," Harvey said.

At least five states have passed anti-abortion legislation that is aimed at provoking a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

"We believe that the heartbeat bill is the right vehicle for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Our strategy has always included a federal court challenge and today starts that judicial process," Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said Wednesday. "We respect all women. We are the only conservative organization that I know that supported Medicaid expansion we believe in helping women the moment they find out they are pregnant and all the way after. But the tired talking points of the other side will get them nowhere,"

Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia have also approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. A judge in Kentucky blocked enforcement of that state's heartbeat ban after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the clinic in Louisville.

An Alabama bill sent to Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday goes even further by seeking to outlaw abortion outright, and includes no exceptions for rape or incest.

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