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Hamilton County judge issues temporary halt to Ohio's so-called 'heartbeat law'

judge sits at his bench, court staffer in the foreground
Bill Rinehart
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins heard arguments for and against a temporary restraining order Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.

A Hamilton County judge has issued a 14 day pause on Ohio's six week abortion ban, commonly referred to as the "heartbeat law." Senate Bill 23 bans abortion at the point fetal cardiac activity can be detected.

Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins issued a temporary restraining order against Ohio's law Wednesday afternoon. In his decision, he writes S.B. 23 does not violate the U.S. Constitution as interpreted in the recent Dobbs decision, but it may violate the Ohio Constitution.

"Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals expressly recognized in the abortion context that 'the Ohio Constitution confers greater rights than are conferred by the United States Constitution,' " he writes.

Jenkins says the measure denies "equal protection of the law with respect to the fundamental right to privacy, procreation, bodily integrity and freedom of choice" to women and only women, access to a well-established, safe and potentially life-saving health care option.

The judge says as far as he can tell, no other court had addressed the issue, until now. The restraining order will last 14 days and prohibits penalizing anyone retroactively after the order expires. That means, currently, abortion procedures are legal in Ohio up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Jenkins heard arguments Sept. 8 after the ACLU of Ohio and six clinics that provide the procedure in the state filed for a restraining order the week before. It's a new legal maneuver by the attorney representing many of the state's clinic.

Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said the organization withdrew its initial case challenging the state's new law from the Ohio Supreme Court, saying the plaintiffs seek more "immediate relief" from the ban while the issue of whether abortion is a protected right under the Ohio constitution also plays out in court.

The plaintiffs then filed a new case in Hamilton County to stop the law from going into effect and asked the judge to put the law on hold while the case plays out.

An abortion care facility in Dayton was scheduled to close Sept. 15 if there was no legal action taken by then. The decision by Jenkins gives the facility at least 14 more days.

Of course, the case could end up back before the Ohio Supreme Court on appeals.

Ohio's law passed in 2019 but didn't go into effect until after the Dobbs decision from the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. Ohio's law has no exceptions for rape or incest, but does allow for exceptions "to prevent the death of the pregnant woman” or “to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman”.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.
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.