Ban on abortions due to Down syndrome challenged in lawsuit


COLUMBUS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging an Ohio law prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, saying claims it is an anti-discrimination effort are a masquerade.

The suit against the state Health Department, state medical board and county prosecutors charged with carrying out the 2017 law was filed in federal court in Cincinnati on behalf of Preterm in Cleveland, Planned Parenthood and other Ohio abortion providers.

The filing calls the measure “Ohio’s latest attempt to prevent women from exercising their constitutionally protected right to an abortion” and argues it prevents abortion providers “from providing nonjudgmental, medically appropriate care.”

“The government cannot deny a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy pre-viability,” ACLU legal director Freda Levenson said at a news conference in Columbus announcing the suit. “It is a woman’s protected, intimate, personal choice and it’s her protected liberty. The Supreme Court has said that the state cannot enter this private realm of family life or infringe on this liberty.”

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the law in December. It’s scheduled to take effect March 23. The ACLU has requested both a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against the law to keep it from taking effect.

The prohibition makes it a crime for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy based on knowledge of Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

Specifically, the law makes performing an abortion in such cases a fourth-degree felony and requires the state medical board to revoke the physician’s license if convicted. It imposes no punishment on women seeking the procedure in such cases.

The law was championed by Ohio Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion group, which argued it will prevent discrimination based on misinformation.

The group’s president, Mike Gonidakis, said Thursday that the ACLU’s decision to challenge the law goes against its mission.

“The ACLU of Ohio claims on their website that they ‘seek to preserve civil liberties for each new generation,’” he said in a statement. “Their blatant and continuous attacks on the dignity and sanctity of human life make it clear that they do not care for the youngest of each new generation: the unborn.”

Emily Chesnut, of Cincinnati, whose 6-year-old daughter, Nora, was born with Down syndrome, joined plaintiffs in the case at Thursday’s news conference to attack the law. Nora joined her mother at the event.

“When they signed this bill, Governor Kasich and state legislators used my child as a political tool to promote their own agenda,” Chesnut told reporters. “They don’t care about Nora. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to ensure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy, full life.” She named affordable health care coverage and accessible therapy treatments among those necessities.

North Dakota and Indiana were ahead of Ohio in passing similar restrictions.

The Indiana law, enacted in 2016, has been blocked by a federal judge, who said the state has no right to limit women’s reasons for terminating pregnancies. The state has appealed.

North Dakota’s law went into effect in 2013 and has not been challenged. That state’s sole abortion clinic, in Fargo, says the issue hasn’t arisen under its policy of not performing abortions after 16 weeks into a pregnancy.

A bill similar to Ohio’s is moving through the Utah Legislature.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press

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