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Q&A: The Current Realities Of Abortion Access In Ohio

The recent passage of the so-called "Heartbeat Bill" has caused some confusion about the legality of abortion in Ohio. Gov. MIke DeWine signed the legislation into law last month, but it does not take effect until July. The ACLU and other organizations have sued, hoping to prevent the law from going into effect. Morning Edition host Amy Eddings spoke with Be Well Health reporter Marlene Harris-Taylor about the current realities of abortion access in Ohio.

Let's start with the facts about this new law. How does it does it work?

The new law is nearly a complete ban. It makes it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks. Sometimes that is before a woman even knows that she is pregnant and there are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. There are some exceptions for the life of the mother. Some say that this is one of the most restrictive fetal heartbeat bills in the country.

Alabama's new law goes even farther making abortions a felony in nearly all cases unless necessary for the mother's health. But, indeed this Ohio bill is also very restrictive. So tell me how this would work. What happens when a woman goes to a clinic to seek an abortion?

The onus would be on the doctor to double check and make sure that there is no heartbeat detectable. So what they would have to do is perform an ultrasound on the woman. Doctors will be extra careful because there are criminal penalties in this law. They face a fifth degree felony and up to a year in prison. It also allows a state medical board to take disciplinary action so some might wonder if this will scare doctors off. The ban would take effect July 10.

But if the ACLU lawsuit is successful it could be tabled?

Yes absolutely. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed the federal lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio. There are several plaintiffs in the suit, including Preterm Cleveland and some other abortion providers from across the state. What they ultimately hope, those who filed the lawsuit, is that the court will issue an injunction and put the law on the shelf as the parties fight this out in court. And so that it wouldn't actually take effect in Ohio.

Ultimately, they are hoping that the court will rule that it's unconstitutional.

Yes, but what would happen at that point is whoever wins in the first court skirmish the other side is going to appeal.

Other states have passed similar abortion restrictions. How would their cases factor into what could happen in Ohio?

Pro-life groups, including those in Ohio, are trying to get these abortion bans all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a race to see which one of these gets to the Supreme Court first. So, if one of the other states manages to get theirs up to the Supreme Court first, it's possible that all the cases can be folded in together as one. The other thing that could happen is after the first case that makes it there, the other states could just put theirs on hold and see what happens with the Supreme Court.

This law is just one way abortion access has been curtailed in Ohio. There have been many other steps taken by Republican administrations to limit abortions. Tell me about them.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 17 abortion providers in Ohio in 2014. Today there are only nine, according to NARAL Pro-choice Ohio. So access to abortion has really decreased dramatically in Ohio in a few short years.

Why is that? What caused them to close?

Over the years, Republican administrations have come up with rules that have made it very difficult for these clinics to operate.

When will we hear about whether the federal court will grant the ACLU its injunction?

They don't expect any action until either late June or early July, but the ACLU has requested that the court rule on the injunction before the law would take effect July 10.




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