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ACLU Sues Ohio Over Down Syndrome Abortion Ban

Abortion protesters at the Ohio Statehouse.
Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau

The ACLU of Ohio has filed a lawsuit over a newly-signed state law that bans abortion at the point a Down Syndrome diagnosis is made. This legal challenge might mean the law could be put on hold.

Emily Chestnut of Cincinnati has a six-year-old daughter, Nora, who has Down syndrome. Sitting before reporters with Nora in her lap, Chestnut explains why she thinks the abortion ban shouldn’t be allowed to take effect.

“When they signed this bill, Gov. Kasich and state legislators used my child as a political tool to promote their own agenda,” Chestnut says. “They don’t care about Nora. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to ensure every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy full life.”

Chestnut says Down syndrome children usually require health care services and long-term therapies that are generally not supported by lawmakers who passed this new law. And Chestnut also says she supports the ACLU’s lawsuit.

The ACLU filed its lawsuit on Thursday against the state Health Department, state medical board and county prosecutors on behalf of Planned Parenthood and several individual abortion providers. It wants a U.S. District Court to stop the new law, which was signed by Kasich at the end of last year, from going into effect next month.

The measure makes it a fourth-degree felony for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy based on knowledge of Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and certain medical conditions. The law requires the state medical board to revoke the physician’s license if convicted, but does not penalize the woman seeking the abortion.

“This comes as no surprise,” says Mike Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life. “Of course, the ACLU serves as the private legal counsel for the abortion industry. You know, the American Civil Liberties group truly focuses on abortion and abortion on demand.”

Gonidakis says this new law is about preventing discrimination for disabilities.

“Look. The law is simple. It protects people with special needs,” Gonidakis says. “It’s more of an anti-discrimination bill than it is an abortion bill, but the ACLU is saying no. The organization for which they stand for now says that doesn’t apply if it’s abortion-related.”

The ACLU’s Freda Levenson says this new law merely masquerades as an anti-discrimination bill.

“The law is not part of a broader legislative package to advance the interests of disability rights community,” Levenson says. “It’s just the most recent piece in a large strategic campaign to restrict and ultimately, eliminate, abortion access in Ohio.”

The ban is set to go into effect on March 22. A similar law in Indiana has been put on hold by courts there.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.