WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked an Ohio law banning abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy, finding the law’s challengers were “certain” to win in arguing the law is “unconstitutional on its face.”
Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the law in April, preventing women from legally obtaining an abortion after the fetus’s heartbeat can be heard, usually after about 6 weeks of pregnancy — before many women are aware they are pregnant. The law contains exceptions in cases of threat of “irreversible impairment” or death of the pregnant woman, but it has no exceptions for cases of pregnancy from rape or incest.
A month after the law was signed, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state on behalf of Planned Parenthood and other local abortion providers. It argued that a 6-week ban violates US Supreme Court precedent that establishes a constitutional right to abortion — 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision — but also prohibits abortion laws that place an “undue burden” on women’s access to the procedure.
Judge Michael Barrett of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio issued a preliminary injunction — a temporary block on the law going into effect until the case is finished — and wrote that the ACLU was “certain to succeed.” The law was set to take effect July 11.
“The Court concludes, based on current United States Supreme Court precedent, that Plaintiffs are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim that [the ban] is unconstitutional on its face,” Barrett wrote in his decision.
Barrett is the latest judge to block state laws that ban abortion after 6 weeks, following state and local judges that have reached similar conclusions in Mississippi, North Dakota, and Iowa. Litigation is pending in Georgia, and reproductive rights groups have vowed to challenge a 6-week ban signed in late May by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. There’s also a lawsuit pending challenging Alabama’s near-total abortion ban.
The injunction is good news for reproductive rights groups, since it means the law will not take effect anytime soon, but the anti-abortion politicians and activists pushing these bans are aware that these bills have no chance of becoming law in their state or surviving lower court review. Instead, they’re passing them in an effort to get to the Supreme Court. The ultimate goal is to convince the justices to overturn or greatly weaken Roe v. Wade, threatening abortion access nationwide.
Despite this, many abortion rights advocates are confident that, if their opponents succeed in getting one of these cases before the Supreme Court, the justices would respect precedent and maintain the core of Roe v. Wade, despite Trump’s recent appointees having histories of anti-abortion opinions.
Barrett wrote that to the extent the state was making a “deliberate effort” to go after Roe v. Wade, “those arguments must be made to a higher court.”
In the lawsuit, the ACLU said it estimated that a 6-week ban could prohibit 90% of abortions performed in the state. Women often do not know they are pregnant until they have missed two periods, especially if they are not trying to get pregnant. Once they realize they are pregnant, confirm the pregnancy with their doctor, and manage to book the multiple appointments legally required in Ohio, which often involves taking off work and traveling long distances, most women will be more than six weeks from their last period.
“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,” Barrett wrote in his decision. “One could characterize the obstacle Ohio women will face as not merely ‘substantial,’ but, rather, ‘insurmountable.’”