ACLU and Planned Parenthood file lawsuit challenging Ohio's anti-abortion "heartbeat" bill

By Kate Smith

/ CBS News

Rape victim couldn't have abortion under new Ohio law

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood just filed a lawsuit challenging the Ohio "heartbeat" bill, an abortion ban that would prohibit the procedure about five to six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women know that they're pregnant.

Representing a handful of abortion clinics around the state, the lawsuit claims the new anti-abortion measure is in direct conflict with Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protected a woman's right to an abortion up until fetal viability, which is typically 24 to 25 weeks in a pregnancy. The lawsuit seeks to temporarily block the ban from being enacted while a federal judge makes a final decision.

The law is slated to go into effect on July 10.

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"The law of the land has been crystal clear for nearly 50 years: women have a categorical right to a pre-viability abortion," said Freda Levenson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio, on a call with reporters on Wednesday morning.

Ohio is one of six states that have passed the so-called "heartbeat" bill, though none have been successfully implemented before being blocked by a federal judge. Even still, anti-abortion activists have been undeterred; over 300 anti-abortion measures, including "heartbeat" bans, have been introduced by states legislators this year, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization.

On Tuesday evening, Alabama lawmakers went a step further, passing a near-total abortion ban that prohibits the procedure in all cases, except when the woman's health is at risk. The law provides no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Ohio's "heartbeat" bill provides no exceptions for rape or incest victims. Last week, a 26-year-old in Ohio was indicted on felony rape charges for allegedly impregnating an 11-year-old. Though the new abortion ban is not yet in effect, her's is the type of pregnancy that would no longer be eligible for termination under the new law. More than 4,000 women were raped in Ohio in 2017, according to data compiled by the FBI. Of those, more than 800 victims were assaulted by a family member.

Even with the law not yet implemented, women in Ohio already face many obstacles if they want to terminate their pregnancies, said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization. Prior to Ohio's six-week ban, the state's laws were already some of the most restrictive toward abortion access, according to data from Guttmacher. Abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy are prohibited in the state, and minors, like the 11-year-old rape victim, must obtain parental consent, or argue their case to a judge.

"Over and over and over again the state introduces restrictions to shame women," said Mashayla Hays, the If/When/How Reproductive Justice State Fellow at New Voices for Reproductive Justice, on a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

"The aim is super clear: Eliminate access to safe legal abortion in Ohio."

First published on May 15, 2019 / 12:44 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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