New ruling means Ohio Heartbeat abortion law still blocked as court case proceeds

State had appealed preliminary injunction; appeals court said that move was premature and case can continue

Ohio’s Heartbeat Law, which would ban most abortions, remains blocked after a ruling Friday from the state’s First District Court of Appeals. That means for now, Ohio abortions can continue through 20 weeks of pregnancy, the same standard the state has had for years.

Step-by-step process

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortions. Swift action by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost then allowed the Ohio Heartbeat Law (Senate Bill 23, signed in 2019), to take immediate effect. That law bans most abortions once any cardiac activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

In September, Planned Parenthood and Ohio abortion clinics filed suit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, challenging the Heartbeat Law in full, and seeking a preliminary injunction for now.

In October, Hamilton County Judge Christian Jenkins issued that preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the Heartbeat Law pending a trial. After an evidentiary hearing, Jenkins said the Ohio Constitution gives all Ohioans a right to “privacy, procreation, bodily integrity and freedom of choice in health care decision-making that encompasses the right to abortion.” He said the Heartbeat Law infringed on those rights.

Almost immediately, state officials appealed Jenkins’ injunction to Ohio’s First District Court of Appeals. That court quickly raised the question of whether it had jurisdiction to rule on the injunction, leading to legal briefs from both sides.

Friday’s court decision

The First District Court of Appeals made clear that its decision Friday was a procedural one.

“At this time, we do not weigh the merits of the case; rather, we must determine the threshold question of whether, under Ohio law, we may exercise jurisdiction over the state’s appeal of the preliminary injunction order,” Friday’s ruling said.

And the court’s ruling was that it did not have jurisdiction, saying the state “appealed prematurely.”

“We conclude that we lack jurisdiction over the state’s appeal. We accordingly dismiss this appeal, but of course any aggrieved party can appeal after the trial court issues its final judgment in the case,” the appeals court ruling said. “Our answer on the merits of this dispute and the underlying constitutionality of the statute … must await another day.”

What’s next in the case

Friday’s ruling means the full legal challenge of the Heartbeat Law in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court can proceed. It’s unclear whether that court case might last months, or years.

In that case, the state is arguing that the Ohio Constitution doesn’t mention abortion and therefore doesn’t protect the right to one.

Judge Jenkins knocked that argument in October when he issued his preliminary injunction, saying a right doesn’t have to be named to be protected.

Outside of the courtroom, two different groups announced plans to put Constitutional amendments on the Ohio ballot in 2023 to protect abortion rights.

Reaction to the ruling

The plaintiffs in the case issued a joint statement: “We are pleased that the appeal was correctly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and that the case will continue before the trial court towards a final decision on the merits. The state will fight us every step of the way, but we know that Senate Bill 23 violates the Ohio Constitution, and we are confident that the law is on our side.”

Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis also issued a statement: “Regardless of what transpires at the lower courts, Ohio’s heartbeat law will ultimately be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court in 2023. We are confident that Ohio’s highest court will rule that nowhere in Ohio’s Constitution does a right to an abortion exist.”

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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