Federal Judge Blocks Ohio Law Banning Abortions When Unborn Baby’s Heartbeat Begins

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Mar 4, 2021   |   12:20PM   |   Columbus, Ohio

A federal judge extended his block Wednesday on an Ohio law that protects unborn babies from abortion once their heartbeats are detectable.

Ohio has been prohibited from enforcing the pro-life law ever since it passed in 2019. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing to overturn it in court.

In his order Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett temporarily extended his block on the law while postponing a final ruling, the AP reports. He said he wants to wait to see how courts rule on a similar heartbeat law in Tennessee and another Ohio law that prohibits abortions on unborn babies with Down syndrome.

The Ohio heartbeat law has the potential to save thousands of babies’ lives. It prohibits abortions on unborn babies who have detectable heartbeats, starting at about six weeks of pregnancy. Because many women do not even know they are pregnant at this early stage, the legislation could prohibit almost all abortions in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Health reported 20,893 abortions in 2017.

However, Barrett said the law likely is unconstitutional because it unduly burdens a woman’s “right to abortion” before her unborn baby is viable, according to the report.

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The U.S. Supreme Court limits states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Pro-life advocates hope cases like the one in Ohio will prompt the high court to reconsider this precedent.

Previously, Gov. Mike DeWine told the Dayton Daily News that he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will uphold the law. But he cautioned Ohioans to be prepared for lower courts to rule against it because of the current precedent of Roe v. Wade.

“It’s important for everyone to have the right expectations and for those of us who hope that this law is upheld to fully to understand that we are not going to see that in the lower courts,” the governor said. “It ultimately is for the Supreme Court to decide.”

State Attorney General Dave Yost previously promised to defend the law as well.

“Sometimes, the evolution of the law requires bold steps,” he told Fox 45. “In the last 46 years, the practice of medicine has changed. Science has changed. Even the point of viability has changed. Only the law has lagged behind. This law provides a stable, objective standard to guide the courts.”

Though the court battle may be long, DeWine said it is worth it to protect unborn babies.

“It is our duty I believe and it’s the essential function of government to protect those who can’t protect themselves, to protect those who are voiceless,” he said.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, also expressed hope that they eventually will succeed in protecting unborn babies.

“Roe is an outdated, terribly decided precedent and it’s time that the Supreme Court take a second look at it,” he said in 2019. “We’re confident that the Heartbeat Bill could be the legislation that reaches that level. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for life-saving laws and policies to seek a more life-affirming culture in Ohio.”

However, abortion activists also have promised to fight to keep abortion on demand legal in Ohio.

“This legislation is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight to the bitter end to ensure that this bill is permanently blocked,” said Freda Levenson with the ACLU of Ohio, previously.

Some pro-lifers have renewed hope that the new conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court will uphold an abortion ban and overturn Roe v. Wade. Others, however, are hesitant because of concerns about losing the court battle and being forced to reimburse pro-abortion groups for their legal fees.

It also is difficult to predict if the high court would take the case – especially after it recently refused to hear two other abortion-related cases.

The Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion under Roe v. Wade, and instead allowed abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.

A recent Marist Poll found that 80 percent of Americans want to limit abortions no later than three months of pregnancy (12 weeks), and another poll found that 56 percent of voters are in favor of heartbeat bills.