Judge blocks Ohio's 'heartbeat' abortion law

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would have banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The law, which bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, was signed earlier this year by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood.

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It was slated to take effect this month, but U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the law from taking effect while it is challenged in court.

"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, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Barrett wrote in his ruling that the law places an "undue burden" on a woman's right to obtain an abortion before the fetus is viable, violating Supreme Court precedent

The law would have been one of the strictest in the nation with no exemptions for cases of rape or incest.

Five other states have also passed "heartbeat" abortion bans this year.

A federal judge this year blocked a similar ban in Mississippi, while challenges to bans in Kentucky and Georgia are pending.

Abortion rights groups argue the laws are unfair and unconstitutional because they ban abortions before many women know they are pregnant. 

Barrett seemed to sympathize with this argument Wednesday, writing in his ruling: "[The law], as its sponsors intended, will have the effect of preventing nearly all abortions in Ohio." 

A woman with "highly regular periods" would have two weeks at most to learn she is pregnant, decide whether to have an abortion, and seek and obtain the procedure, he noted. 

"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," he wrote. "One could characterize the obstacle Ohio women will face as not merely 'substantial,' but, rather, 'insurmountable.'"

The bans are part of a strategy devised by anti-abortion groups and Republicans to force the Supreme Court to revisit and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion group in Ohio that pushed for the heartbeat bill, called the ruling disappointing but said it could still reach the Supreme Court. 

“While it is certainly disappointing that Judge Barrett would issue a preliminary injunction, it is certainly not surprising. The heartbeat bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v. Wade," said Mike Gonidakis, president of the organization. 

“We know that this preliminary injunction is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered,” he wrote.