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ACLU sues Ohio, claiming abortion provisions stuck in state budget are unconstitutional

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CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued Wednesday in Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court, challenging three abortion-related provisions that were passed as part of the state’s budget bill in June.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Preterm - a Cleveland women’s health clinic that provides contraception, birth control, pregnancy counseling, and abortion services -  contends the provisions are unconstitutional because they violate the Ohio Constitution’s single subject rule.

The provisions, all included in the state’s biennial budget signed June 30 by Republican Gov. John Kasich, ban public hospitals from making transfer agreements with abortion clinics, require clinics to follow a government script when dealing with patients and to present those patients with evidence of a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion or face criminal charges. They also create a new state “parenting and pregnancy” program that siphons state money directly into private organizations that are forbidden from mentioning abortion services.

The single-subject rule in the Ohio Constitution requires just what it’s name implies, that bills that are enacted into law address one subject. That single subject can be broad, such as the budgetary process. But the ACLU contends these three areas are not part of that process and should therefore have been in other legislation.

“The first two amendments have nothing at all to do with budget appropriations,” said Jessie Hill, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law who is a cooperating attorney for the ACLU. “The third is also unconstitutional because it creates and funds an entirely new government program, something that requires stand-alone legislation.”

As separate pieces of legislation, they would have received individual hearings and a public airing for Ohioans, said Susan Scheutzow, a partner at the law firm of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz who is a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.

“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” Scheutzow said. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy; the single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said the lawsuit is as much about good government as it is about abortion issues. “You don’t have to be pro-choice to understand that there are rules, and those rules must be followed,” she said.

The case was filed in Cuyahoga County, but Hill expects it ultimately will be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Wednesday afternoon that the administration does not comment on pending litigation.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, said Wednesday afternoon that office was reviewing the lawsuit. DeWine's staff could have to defend the state in the action.

Ohio Right to Life, which applauded the restrictions when they were included in the budget, blasted the action.

"This is nothing more than a pro-abortion legal stunt by the ACLU which ultimately will cost Ohio taxpayers significantly. In the end, all three of these pro-life laws will by upheld by the courts, said Mike Gonidakis, president of the organization. "Tragically, much needed resources will be blocked temporarily from going to poor pregnant women, especially in the rural parts of Ohio.

"Instead of offering common sense solutions to help women, the abortion industry, the ACLU and their lawyers choose to waste time and money on frivolous lawsuits."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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