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ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Antiabortion Provisions in Ohio Budget; NYT Examines State's Incremental Strategy

ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Antiabortion Provisions in Ohio Budget; NYT Examines State's Incremental Strategy

October 10, 2013 — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Wednesday challenged three abortion-related provisions in Ohio's current budget, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Smyth, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/9).

The budget, which took effect Sept. 30, includes a provision that requires abortion clinics to secure a transfer agreement with a private hospital and prohibits them from making such arrangements with public hospitals.

The budget also requires physicians to perform an abdominal ultrasound prior to an abortion and tell the woman if a heartbeat is detectable. Physicians also must explain the likelihood that the fetus would survive if the pregnancy continues. The bill defines a fetus as "developing from the moment of conception."

In addition, the budget reprioritizes which providers may receive federal family planning money in a way that effectively cuts off $1.4 million from Planned Parenthood. However, the budget does provide funding for antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers, which critics argue give women medically inaccurate information. The legislation allows public funding for rape crisis clinics to be suspended if they counsel victims on abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/3).

Lawsuit Details

The suit argues that the budget violates a provision of the Ohio Constitution that requires legislation to be limited to a single subject. The abortion restrictions "have nothing whatsoever to do with budgeting, appropriations, spending or taxation," the suit states, adding that "they are controversial riders, added in the eleventh hour to a must-pass bill in order to ensure that they would pass easily and without opposition."

Christine Link, Ohio ACLU's executive director, said, "Of course we're pro-choice, but this really is a case about the single-subject rule and how legislators stick stuff into the budget." She added, "The budget should not be a vehicle for everybody's pet thing" (Rowland, Columbus Dispatch, 10/10).

However, Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis called the suit contradictory. He said, "On the one hand, the ACLU claims the budget 'should be' for appropriating funds and, on the other hand, they claim that they do not like how the funds are appropriated" (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/9).

New York Times: Ohio Abortion Restrictions Show Impact of Incremental Strategy

Abortion-rights opponents say Ohio has become a model state for the so-called incremental strategy of restricting abortion rights, which involves passing a series of rules and laws that hamper abortion access without blatantly violating Supreme Court precedent, the New York Times reports.

Ohio in recent years has enacted several antiabortion measures, including the provisions in its recently passed budget bill. The budget restrictions join other laws that require waiting periods before abortions, mandatory ultrasounds and discussions of the fetal heartbeat, and curbs on medication abortion. Although the various measures passed with little attention from the national media, when taken collectively, "they affect patients and clinics in myriad ways," the Times reports.

For example, many abortion providers across the state no longer perform abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy because they fear potential criminal charges. In addition, the measure barring public hospitals from signing agreements with clinics that provide abortions could force up to three of the state's 11 clinics to close.

Impact Disputed

Chrisse France -- executive director of Preterm, a not-for-profit abortion clinic in Cleveland that performs about 4,900 abortions annually -- said that "some of the laws are actually harmful, and some are just cruel."

France cited a 2011 court ruling that upheld an Ohio law that requires doctors to adhere to FDA's original guidelines for medication abortion, which doctors say is an outdated, less safe and less effective method than current medical protocols. She noted that there is "no evidence that this cut down on abortion."

Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life said he believes the measures have persuaded many women to continue their pregnancies. "[I]f you support the pro-life movement," the past few years have been "fantastic" in Ohio, he added (Eckholm, New York Times, 10/9).