Federal Judge Blocks Ohio's Abortion 'Heartbeat' Bill

The legislation signed by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine would have effectively banned abortion at about six weeks.

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a bill in Ohio that would have banned abortions after a so-called “fetal heartbeat” is detected.

U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett granted a preliminary injunction against the bill, stating in a 12-page decision that it “places an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to choose a pre-viability abortion.”

Barrett ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the law ― including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Planned Parenthood ― “are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim that S.B. 23 is unconstitutional on its face.”

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill on April 11, a day after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature approved the legislation. The law was set to go into effect on July 11.

The bill would have outlawed abortions as soon as a doctor can detect what lawmakers call a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks ― or before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Doctors who violated the law would have faced a fifth-degree felony punishable by as much as a year in prison. The bill allowed exceptions for patients whose lives were threatened by the pregnancy but not for those who became pregnant through rape or incest.

Barrett in his ruling summarized the plaintiffs’ arguments, which included the unlikelihood that a person would even be aware of their pregnancy before six weeks in order to obtain an abortion if they so chose.

“But assuming a patient does know that she is pregnant, there are certain logistical obstacles to obtaining abortion care before six weeks in pregnancy,” Barrett wrote, noting challenges like scheduling time off work, arranging transportation and ensuring funds for the procedure.

He continued: “These reasons explain why the vast majority of abortions in Ohio — approximately 90% — take place at or after six weeks” since a patient’s last menstrual period.

Freda Levenson, the legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, applauded Barrett’s decision on Wednesday.

“Today the Court has upheld the clear law: women in Ohio (and across the nation) have the constitutional right to make this deeply personal decision about their own bodies without interference from the State,” Levenson said in a news release.

Numerous states have recently passed or are poised to pass so-called fetal heartbeat laws, widely considered to be a direct assault on Roe v. Wade. Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia have recently passed similar bills, though several have also been challenged in the courts.