A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” granting abortion rights advocates’ request for an injunction and ruling that “Plaintiffs are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim that S.B. 23 (the Heartbeat Protection Act) is unconstitutional on its face.”
The “Heartbeat Protection Act,” which was passed April 10 and signed by anti-abortion Gov. Mike DeWine the following day, would have taken effect July 11 and criminalized any abortion performed after the point at which fetal cardiac activity could be detected by a vaginal ultrasound — typically about six weeks into a pregnancy.
It included exceptions for cases in which the mother’s life or physical health would be seriously endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term but none for cases of rape, incest or damage to the mother’s mental health.
Anyone who “caused or abetted” the termination of a pregnancy could be charged with a fifth-degree felony, imprisoned for up to a year and fined $2,500. A doctor who performed an abortion procedure could face even more severe punishment, including the loss of their medical license and a possible financial penalty of up to $30,000 per operation. (A state medical board could demand forfeiture of $20,000; a patient could sue for up to $10,000.)
A group of abortion rights advocates and providers — Preterm-Cleveland, Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, Capital Care Network of Toledo, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Women’s Med Group Professional Corporation and Cincinnati-based physician Dr. Sharon Liner — sued to block the legislation shortly after DeWine signed it.
In their initial complaint, the groups argued the six-week limit would become an effective ban on almost all abortion, leaving a window of only two weeks between a missed period and the point at which a woman could no longer legally receive an abortion. Women who do not have regular periods could miss the window entirely.
Judge Michael Barrett agreed in Wednesday’s ruling, writing: “One could characterize the obstacle Ohio women will face as not merely ‘substantial’ but, rather, ‘insurmountable.’”