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ACLU sues to stop Ohio ban on Down syndrome abortions

(February 15, 2018) — Ohio’s recently passed ban on Down syndrome abortions would be stopped before it starts if a federal judge grants a request filed Thursday by Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics.

Freda Levenson, the legal director of the Ohio ACLU, which is handling the lawsuit, was joined by representatives from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Preterm, a Cleveland abortion clinic, at a press conference where she said the ban violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The law we challenge is blatantly unconstitutional,” Levenson said. “Full stop.”

The law, which stemmed from House Bill 224, is set to take effect on March 22. Levenson said the ACLU is confident any judge who hears their argument will put the bill on hold.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, released a statement condemning the ACLU for the lawsuit.

“It is a shame that an organization that claims to be the very biggest and best at defending victims of discrimination completely disregards the most vulnerable members of our society who are being discriminated against,” Gonidakis said.

Chrisse France, the executive director of Preterm, pointed out the bill includes only Down syndrome and not other disabilities. France said the bill is actually a simple attempt to restrict abortion rights in Ohio.

“The bill masquerades as an anti-discrimination measure to protect people with Down syndrome,” France said. “It’s just the most recent piece in a large, strategic campaign to restrict and ultimately eliminate abortion access in Ohio.”

The GOP-dominated legislature and Republican Gov. John Kasich have enacted 20 restrictions on abortion since Kasich took office in 2011. The Down syndrome ban passed easily late last year.

France said the bill wouldn’t only restrict women’s rights, but could also lead to a “chilling” effect on the relationship women have with their physician by indirectly compelling them to withhold information about their pregnancy.

Emily Chesnut, the mother of a child with Down syndrome — a girl who turned 6 today, and was with her at the press conference — said the bill does not help people with Down syndrome, but rather restricts women’s’ rights. She said she didn’t realize her daughter had the syndrome until she was born.

“This bill does nothing to help with that,” Chesnut said. “This is not a bill about Down syndrome. This bill is about putting a hurdle in front of women who have a constitutional right.”

The requested temporary restraining order would halt the law from taking effect for 10 days while a judge considers the constitutionality of the statute, and a preliminary injunction would stay the law indefinitely, Levenson said.

Levenson said a similar bill in Indiana was permanently enjoined by a judge and the state is currently appealing that ruling.