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Bush-Appointed Judge Blocks Ohio Law Banning Abortions After Detection of Fetal Heartbeat


A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Ohio’s law banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued a 12-page ruling in which he granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the so-called “heartbeat law.”

Under the law, which was signed by Governor Mike DeWine in April, doctors who perform abortions either after they detect a heartbeat or if they fail to perform an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound to check for a heartbeat would face a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 criminal fine.

Barrett reasoned that the plaintiffs in the case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, would ultimately be successful in their lawsuit because the heartbeat law failed to meet the “undue burden” test set forth by the Supreme Court in the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“This Court concludes that (the heartbeat law) places an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to choose a pre-viability abortion, and, under Casey, Plaintiffs are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim,” Barrett wrote, adding that the law “is unconstitutional on its face.”

According to Barrett, if enforced, the law would place far more than an undue burden on women seeking an abortion, going so far as to say that “one could characterize the obstacle Ohio women will face as not merely ‘substantial,’ but, rather, ‘insurmountable.’”

The decision also noted that women rarely know they’re with child within the first six weeks of pregnancy and that the law would have effectively outlawed abortion throughout the state, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

“[The law], as its sponsors intended, will have the effect of preventing nearly all abortions in Ohio. A woman with irregular periods likely will be denied the opportunity to seek an abortion altogether because she will not realize that she is pregnant in time to choose her fate,” the judge wrote.

The ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood released a statement after the injunction was announced praising the court’s decision.

“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,” said Freda Levenson, the ACLU of Ohio’s legal director.

Barrett was appointed to the court in 2006 by Republican President George W. Bush.

[image via SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.