Abortion lawsuits continue before the Ohio Supreme Court as Issue 1 goes into effect

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

Ohioans voted to enshrine access to abortion in the Ohio Constitution last month, and while Issue 1 went into effect on Thursday, groups on both sides are still facing a fight in court over Ohio’s Heartbeat Law.

Ohioans voted to decisively enshrine abortion access in the state constitution with 56.6% of the vote in November. On Thursday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose certified those results, with about 2.2 million votes in favor of Issue 1 and nearly 1.7 million votes against.

“We’re proud that Ohioans did not fall for the rampant misinformation from anti-abortion activists and elected officials, and that our grassroots movement to protect reproductive freedom resonated with millions across the state,” said a joint statement on Thursday from Erica Wilson-Domer, president and CEO at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, and Lauren Blauvelt, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

The next target for groups in favor of access to abortion is to get Ohio’s Heartbeat Law off the books.

The Heartbeat Law, which has had a preliminary injunction preventing it from being enforced since September 2022, prohibits abortion after about the six-week mark of a pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant.

“Although Ohioans long made it clear that we want the government to stay out of our private reproductive decisions, our gerrymandered legislature imposed its own will instead, enacting laws cruelly denying this right,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio.

“But starting (Thursday), with Issue I in effect, we are equipped to successfully defend and protect reproductive freedom. (Thursday) is truly a day to celebrate.”

Conservative groups like Ohio Value Voters plan to continue advocating for the unborn, said John Stover, president of Ohio Value Voters.

“Our organization, along with many others in the state of Ohio, will continue to look upon the unborn as someone that needs people to stand up and render their voice on their behalf,” Stover said.

Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered parties in the case of Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost, the lawsuit stemming from a lower court’s preliminary injunction on Ohio’s Heartbeat Law, to file briefs about how the passage of Issue 1 will impact that case.

Those briefs came on Thursday, with the ACLU of Ohio asking the court to dismiss Yost’s appeal, referring to the Heartbeat Law as S.B. 23.

“Today, the Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety takes effect, adding a clear right to abortion to the Ohio Constitution,” Jessie Hill, an attorney with ACLU of Ohio, said in a brief filed Thursday. “... In Appellant Yost’s own words, S.B. 23, which bans abortion at around six weeks, ‘(can)not exist’ now that the Constitution has been so amended. Appellees agree. The Court should therefore dismiss this appeal.”

Supporters of both sides of the case filed supplemental briefs earlier this week, including a group of 16 conservative and anti-abortion entities. Those include groups like Dayton Right to Life and Warren County Right to Life, along with former state representatives Candice Keller, whose former district included part of Butler County, and Ron Hood.

“Issue 1 makes an abortionist the sole judge of his conduct as he performs abortions up until birth, and in some cases completes them after birth,” said attorney Robert T. Lynch in a supplemental brief in support of Ohio’s Heartbeat Law.

Issue 1 was too far reaching and took authority away from the Ohio General Assembly, said Andrew L. Schlafly, a constitutional attorney who is also representing those anti-abortion groups. He said Issue 1 violates the guarantee of a Republican form of government.

“What that means is, is law-making is properly done by legislators who are elected by the people,” Schlafly said. “The proper process is to have public hearings, take testimony, have a public debate, and engage in law-making through the representatives. It’s improper to bypass that legislative process and try to implement such far-reaching changes.”

Another supplemental brief says Issue 1 make Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost a moot point, according to Lucas County prosecutor Julia R. Bates.

“With the Court’s instructions in mind, Prosecutor Bates submits that the passage of Issue 1 and its new provisions that expressly address abortion, which are now part of the Ohio Constitution, render this appeal moot,” Kevin A. Pituch, counsel for Bates, said in a supplemental brief in Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost.

While this appeal involves issues such as at what point an injunction can be appealer, along with third-party standings of abortion clinics to file lawsuits on their patients’ behalf, Pituch said Yost’s appeals have been “to defend the constitutionality of the Heartbeat Act.”

“[W]hich Attorney General Yost concedes, is no longer possible given the passage of Issue 1,” Pituch said.

A brief with Yost’s opinion was not available by this newspaper’s deadline.

Staff Writer Avery Kreemer contributed to this story.

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