US judge blocks Ohio abortion law, clinics to remain open

Judge temporarily blocks state's 'heartbeat law', which opponents argue would effectively ban abortions.

    An abortion rights activist holds up a sign as marchers take part in the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, DC, US [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
    An abortion rights activist holds up a sign as marchers take part in the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, DC, US [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

    A US federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law Wednesday that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, allowing clinics to continue to provide the procedure as a legal face-off continues.

    The ruling by US District Judge Michael Barrett halts enforcement of the so-called "heartbeat law" that opponents argued would effectively ban the procedure because a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they're pregnant.

    Barrett said Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that sued to stop the law "are certain to succeed on the merits of their claim that [the bill] is unconstitutional on its face".

    Barrett joined the court in 2006 after being nominated by Republican President George W Bush. 

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    Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed the Ohio law in April, after predecessor John Kasich, a fellow Republican, twice vetoed it.

    Ohio is among a dozen states that have considered similar legislation this year, as abortion opponents have pursued a national anti-abortion rights strategy to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which legalised abortion.

    Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said in an emailed statement the decision "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."

    Ohio Right to Life, the state's oldest and largest anti-abortion rights group, called the judge's decision disappointing but not surprising. 

    "The heartbeat bill has the potential to be the vehicle that overturns Roe v Wade," Mike Gonidakis, the group's president, said in a statement. "We know that this temporary restraining order is just a step in the process to finally seeing Roe reconsidered."

    SOURCE: AP news agency