News by VICE

Ohio's "Heartbeat" Law Just Got Blocked

The law would have banned abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant.

by Carter Sherman
Jul 3 2019, 8:00pm

This is a developing story. Please refresh for updates.

A federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law that would have banned abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio, and Planned Parenthood had all sued over the near-total ban, which was set to take effect later this month. But U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett’s ruling on Friday makes the ban unenforceable while that litigation unwinds in court.

“A woman with irregular periods likely will be denied the opportunity to seek an abortion altogether because she will not realize that she is pregnant in time to choose her fate,” Barrett wrote in his ruling. “One could characterize the obstacle Ohio women will face as not merely ‘substantial,’ but, rather, ‘insurmountable.’”

In 2011, Ohio became the first state to propose a so-called “heartbeat” bill, premised on the idea that doctors should be banned from performing abortions once they can detect a fetal heartbeat, or about six weeks into a pregnancy. But that bill didn’t become law in Ohio until April of this year, after President Donald Trump helped solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court with the nomination of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court spurred anti-abortion legislators across the country to pass spate of ambitious abortion bans earlier this year, including a bill that would have banned almost all abortions in Alabama, in the hopes of challenging Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

But no six-week ban has yet survived a court challenge. North Dakota’s heartbeat bill died in 2016, after the Supreme Court declined to review a lower court ruling declaring it unconstitutional. So far this year, states like Mississippi and Kentucky have both had their six-week bans blocked.

Abortion is still legal in all 50 states.

“Today the Court has upheld the clear law: women in Ohio (and across the nation) have the constitutional right to make this deeply personal decision about their own bodies without interference from the State,” Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement after the decision.

Cover image: In this June 5, 2012 file photo, a large balloon in support of the Heartbeat Bill flies outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ann Sanner, File)

heartbeat bill