Hamilton County Judge Indefinitely Blocks Ohio Abortion Ban

Doctors for and against abortion access testified in the case, including a Christian university professor with no OB/GYN experience.

click to enlarge A protester joins a pro-choice rally in Covington on Oct. 8. Demonstrators want Kentucky and Ohio abortion law to be expanded in lockstep. - Photo: Sean Peters
Photo: Sean Peters
A protester joins a pro-choice rally in Covington on Oct. 8. Demonstrators want Kentucky and Ohio abortion law to be expanded in lockstep.

A Hamilton County judge once again blocked the six-week abortion law from taking effect in Ohio, and affirmed abortion clinics’ arguments that abortion is health care in a ruling on Friday, Oct. 7.

“Abortion is safe health care to which Ohioans have a right,” Judge Christian Jenkins said. The judge blocked the Senate Bill 23 indefinitely as the lawsuit continues, with abortion clinics wishing to see the law thrown out completely.

“The preliminary injunction will be in place for the duration of our case, which means abortions will be legal in Ohio for a period much, much longer than the temporary restraining order granted. This court ruling will provide significant relief to Ohio patients and clinics,”

Planned Parenthood of Ohio, the ACLU and other clinics across the state said in a statement Friday afternoon. Jenkins ruled against the state, who had previously argued that the “status quo” in Ohio was the six-week abortion law, since the clinics had not filed the lawsuit in Hamilton County court until two months after the law was implemented.

The two-month waiting period came as the Ohio Supreme Court did not move forward with a lawsuit the clinics had filed in its court. Because of that, the groups asked the state’s highest court to dismiss the lawsuit, so it could be moved to the current venue in southwest Ohio.

Testimony from doctors

In ruling against the state on Friday, Jenkins considered testimony from multiple doctors on both sides of the case, and looked directly to the federal and state constitution for answers as to whether abortion was a right.

Though abortion is not a part of either constitution, Jenkins said the writers of both constitutions spelled out in the founding documents the ability for other rights, called “unenumerated” rights, to be a part of society, if not explicitly listed in the Bill of Rights.
“It is simply wrong to state, as many do, that a right does not exist because it is not specifically listed in the constitution,” Jenkins said.

He pointed to affidavits that had been submitted to the court by the ACLU and abortion clinics, telling stories of pregnancies that were not viable or caused patients to forgo cancer treatment, but were forced to continue because they were past the six-week gestation mark.

He said Ohio’s constitution does not allow women to be subject to such regulations, and gives no preference to any religion of specific ideological group under “rights of conscience.”

“Ohio’s constitution specifically and unambiguously recognized as fundamental the right to liberty … and the right to seek and obtain safety,” Jenkins said.

Fear among health providers

During the Friday hearing, a University of Maryland doctor with three decades of working with high-risk pregnancies, who also said abortion “is one of the tools in my tool box” as an obstetrician, argued the Ohio law strikes fear in doctors minds as they search for legal answers, leaving patients to wait for care.

Dr. Steven Ralston focused his testimony largely on the safety of the abortion procedure, and the similarities the procedure has to other surgical methods, such as miscarriages. Ralston said abortion is “a very common procedure … and it is one of the safest procedures that we have.”

In fact, the doctor said pregnancies can present more dangers and risks than abortions.

“I’ve seen many, many more patients end up in intensive care units after having a baby, compared to women having abortions,” Ralston said.
He said SB 23 is concerning partly because of the “vague” language used in the law, including a lack of clarity to when a woman’s condition reaches a point to allow a legal abortion.

“They use terms like ‘serious’ and ‘substantial’ that are not well-defined in the law,” Ralston said.

A Christian professor weighs in

The state brought up a retired Cedarville University biomedical ethics professor who called abortion a violation of those ethics.

Dr. Dennis Sullivan recently retired from the Christian college as a professor of pharmacy practice and director of the center for bioethics. He told the court he had not trained as an OB/GYN, did not have any board certifications in obstetrics or gynecology, and had not observed any abortions being performed.

In his testimony supporting the abortion law, he pointed to research he’d previously done on the ethics of “personhood,” and his belief that life begins at conception. A scholarly article authored by him on “human embryo metaphysics” says the idea that humans’ “intrinsic value” begins at conception “is crucial to the most prominent Christian understanding of human dignity.”

After hearing from various medical professionals, Jenkins said one thing was still not up for debate.

“As we’ve heard today, there is not any legitimate dispute that abortion is a medical procedure…and it is undoubtedly health care,” the judge said.

Going further, he said the Ohio law was intended to “effectively eliminate” abortion in Ohio. Previously, the judge had issued two temporary injunctions of two weeks each. The most recent temporary injunction was set to expire on October 12.

This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.

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