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ACLU, Planned Parenthood Sue Ohio Over Law Banning Abortion on the Basis of Down Syndrome

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and other abortion providers against a law, signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), in December that bans abortions performed solely on the basis of a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The law, which would go into effect March 23rd, makes performing abortions solely on the basis of Down Syndrome a fourth-degree felony. It requires the state medical board to revoke a doctor's license if convicted but does not penalize the woman obtaining the abortion.

The abortion providers behind the lawsuit argue that the law is an unconstitutional restriction on abortion access.

“Banning a woman from having an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis is not only unconstitutional, it also does absolutely nothing to address discrimination against people with disabilities,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement.

“If Ohio politicians wanted to proactively take a stance for people with disabilities, they should improve access to health care, education, or other services,” she added. “This ban is just a thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion in Ohio.”

 “The patient-doctor relationship is critical; a woman should be able to trust her physicians and have confidential conversations without worrying about government interference,” argued Jerry Lawson, president of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio. “The legislature should focus its attention on promoting strong communities and supporting women and their families, rather than interfering in complicated private medical decisions and finding ways to limit access to safe and legal abortion,”

Preterm, Ohio’s largest abortion provider, is among the clinics represented by the ACLU. They recently launched an “abortion positive” billboard campaign in the state as well. The billboards call abortion a “family value,” a “parenting decision,” and “life-saving.” 

“When a woman has decided to end a pregnancy, she deserves care without judgment,” Chrisse France, executive director for Preterm commented on the new lawsuit. “This law would undermine the relationship between doctors and patients, making it harder for a woman to have an honest and informed conversation with her health care provider. Politicians should stop trying to prevent Ohio women from making thoughtful decisions about growing their families.”

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, called the ACLU’s lawsuit another of the organization's “blatant and continuous attacks on the dignity and sanctity of human life.”

“Today, they have come out against the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act which would protect unborn babies from discriminatory abortions,” he said. “It is a shame that an organization that claims to be the very biggest and best at defending victims of discrimination completely disregards the most vulnerable members of our society who are being discriminated against. The ACLU is hurting Ohio by constantly suing to further an extremist agenda.” 

Similar laws have passed in Indiana and North Dakota. Indiana enacted a similar measure before a judge blocked it after a challenge by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood of Indiana, an appeal is pending. North Dakota banned abortion on the basis of Down syndrome in 2013, a ban which has gone unchallenged likely due to the fact that the state’s only abortion clinic does not perform abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted at high rates globally. According to a CBS report, the United States has an estimated abortion rate of 67 percent (1995-2011) for unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome.

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