COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Abortion rights advocates in Ohio are turning to the courts to restore access in the state.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday before the Ohio Supreme Court, attorneys representing several abortion clinics argued that the state’s six-week abortion ban violates pregnant Ohioans’ fundamental rights under the state constitution.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs is disastrous and devastating for tens of millions of patients across the country,” Meagan Burrows, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said in a news release. “But it hardly gives states like Ohio a free pass from abiding by their own constitutions.”
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday in its decision Dobbs v. Jackson, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost successfully petitioned a federal court to dissolve a three-year injunction against Ohio’s heartbeat bill. It effectively outlawed abortion once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually at about six weeks’ gestation.
Plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and the Toledo Women’s Center, asked the Republican-dominated court to invalidate the law, restoring abortion access up to 22 weeks after a patient’s last period.
Given the Republican supermajority in the Ohio legislature and Gov. Mike DeWine’s opposition to abortion, abortion rights advocates are changing their approach, turning to the judicial branch to enact change instead.
The lawsuit is just one way abortion rights advocates are attempting to restore access. DeWine’s Democratic opponent in November’s gubernatorial election, Nan Whaley, announced Wednesday her support of a ballot initiative that would codify abortion rights into the Ohio Constitution.
“It is time for voters to fight back,” Whaley said. “If they’re going to ban abortion, we’re going to take it to the people and say enough is enough.”
In the lawsuit, abortion clinics contend the Ohio Constitution provides rights that are more robust than those granted by the U.S. Constitution, citing a 1993 district court ruling, among others, that pointed to the wide-reaching protections afforded under the state constitution.
“[I]n light of the broad scope of ‘liberty’ as used in the Ohio Constitution, it would seem almost axiomatic that the right of a woman to choose whether to bear a child is a liberty within the constitutional protection,” a district judge wrote in Preterm Cleveland v. Voinovich, which deemed constitutional a law establishing requirements for an abortion provider to receive informed consent from a patient.
But the Ohio Right to Life noted on its website that the same court opinion was reached by a district court – not the Ohio Supreme Court – “and therefore not the final word on the interpretation of the Ohio Constitution.”
The group’s president, Michael Gonidakis, said in a news release that plaintiffs filed the “meritless” suit in the wrong court, bypassing a court of common pleas because they believe there is a pro-abortion majority on the state court that could be lost in November.
“In making that request, plaintiffs are asking the Ohio Supreme Court Justices to violate the constitutional limits of its jurisdiction, in violation of their oaths of office,” Gonidakis said.
Yost agreed, adding that “lawsuits don’t start at the final court.”
“Aside from filing the wrong action in the wrong court, they are wrong as well on Ohio law,” Yost said in a news release. “Abortion is not in the Ohio Constitution.”
Plaintiffs further argued the heartbeat bill, which it referred to as Senate Bill 23, unlawfully subjects pregnant women to “outdated sex-role stereotypes and erroneous medical claims,” adding that targeting the rights of pregnant women discriminates on the basis of sex.
“S.B. 23 firmly places pregnant women, and eventually mothers, in the home, raising children, and excludes them from spheres of life that are considered more ‘masculine,’ like the workplace, in violation of the Equal Protection and Benefit Clause,” plaintiffs wrote.
Plaintiffs added that low-income communities of color, who historically have lacked access to healthcare, will suffer the gravest harm from Ohio’s six-week abortion ban.
Of the 20,000 abortions obtained in Ohio in 2020, more than 48% of patients were Black, despite representing about 13% of the population, according to the Ohio Department of Health. And the maternal mortality rate is nearly three times higher among Black women than their white counterparts.
It’s unclear how the Ohio Supreme Court will rule in this case. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats 4-3 on the court, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, has occasionally sided with her Democratic counterparts, including in Ohio’s redistricting battle.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost
Mark Harrington, president of the Columbus-based anti-abortion group Created Equal, said the lawsuit before the state court – which he argued has no legal standing – was predictable.
“They lost at the federal level, so they’re running out of options,” Harrington said.
Read the entire complaint below: