Ohio Supreme Court dismisses Planned Parenthood case against ‘Heartbeat Law’

The dismissal comes at the plaintiffs’ request as they join a Hamilton County case that will decide the future of abortion access in Ohio.
Thousands rally for abortion access at Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati.
Thousands rally for abortion access at Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati.(Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 5:38 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday dismissed an abortion case that sought to prevent the state’s so-called “Heartbeat Law” from taking effect.

Planned Parenthood and other plaintiffs filed the case on June 29 as a mandamus action to enjoin the Heartbeat Law, preferring a comprehensive ruling from the state’s highest court over smaller litigation they described in their complaint as “piecemeal.”

On Sept. 2, the plaintiffs indicated they would abandon the Ohio Supreme Court Case in favor of a case out of Hamilton County having judged the latter had a greater chance of success.

They applied to dismiss the case the same day. The Ohio Supreme Court accepted their application Monday afternoon.

The Ohio Supreme Court case figured prominently in the first hearing for the Hamilton County case, which took place last Thursday.

The plaintiffs requested a temporary restraining order with a preliminary injunction to follow, arguing the law has caused “an immediate, devastating crisis across the state.”

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a named defendant, replied Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Christian Jenkins should deny the TRO request because the plaintiffs’ initial Ohio Supreme Court filing and delayed maneuver to join the Hamilton County case showed a lack of urgency.

“[B]y July 1, the plaintiffs knew that they could not obtain emergency relief from the Heartbeat Act in the mandamus case. Still, they chose to maintain that action rather than dismiss the case and seek emergency relief elsewhere,” Yost wrote. “[...]Any emergency that exists today is an emergency of their own making.”

Jenkins did not appear to buy that argument fully last Thursday. He interrogated Yost’s position that no one is being harmed by the law and that the law now represents the status quo.

At the same time, Jenkins was wary of ruling immediately on the TRO request, being unsure of his court’s standing as the Ohio Supreme Court case was technically ongoing.

Monday’s dismissal of that case clears at least one potential hurdle for Jenkins’ ruling on the TRO.

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The plaintiffs are pointedly asking Jenkins to decide on the TRO before Sept. 15, when Dayton’s only abortion clinic will close and Indiana’s recently enacted abortion ban will take effect.

He has not yet issued a ruling as of this writing.

Ohio’s “Heartbeat Law”

The law prevents abortions after the point cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, which generally occurs around six weeks into the pregnancy. Plaintiffs note it can occur as early as five weeks.

The law contains three exceptions: to prevent the death of the mother; where there is a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant mother; and in cases of an ectopic pregnancy.

The middle exception, per the Ohio Revised Code, includes preeclampsia, inevitable abortion, and premature rupture of the membranes. It may include other conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It does not include a condition related to the woman’s mental health.

Yost notes that whether the exceptions apply depends on the facts of each case. It’s a point the plaintiffs are relying on to argue that the ad hoc nature of the law creates a climate of uncertainty in which doctors are wary of acting, putting the safety of women at risk.

A violation is a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of $2,500 in addition to civil penalties. The Ohio medical board may also assess a forfeiture of up to $20,000 for each violation and limit, revoke or suspend a doctor’s medical license.

Statehouse Republicans have introduced a bill that would eliminate abortions with the only exception being to prevent the death of the mother. The bill, introduced just before the summer recess, has not yet been assigned to a committee.

The Heartbeat Law took effect on June 24, hours after US Supreme Court delivered its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. That decision overturned Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the landmark precedents governing abortion access in the United States for the last 50 years.

Prior to Dobbs, the 1992 SCOTUS decision in Casey guaranteed a national right to abortions into the 22nd week of pregnancy, or the viability stage at which the fetus can survive outside the womb. Dobbs dispensed with that framework and left all decisions to the states, more than a dozen of which enacted so-called “trigger laws” immediately upon the decision’s publication.

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