Ohio can enforce ban on Down syndrome abortions -U.S. appeals court

by Reuters
Tuesday, 13 April 2021 20:53 GMT

ARCHIVE PICTURE: An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is shown following the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

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Ohio doctors could face license revocations and up to 18 months in prison for performing the abortions

(Adds Arkansas attorney general appealing decision in similar case to Supreme Court)

By Jonathan Stempel

April 13 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that Ohio can enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down syndrome.

In a 9-7 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said the law did not create a substantial obstacle to obtaining abortions, was reasonably related to Ohio's legitimate interests, and was "valid in all conceivable cases."

Another federal appeals court declared a similar Arkansas law unconstitutional in January. The split could prompt the Supreme Court's 6-3 conservative majority to take up the issue.

Arkansas' Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to review the January ruling.

Ohio's law subjects doctors to license revocations and up to 18 months in prison for performing abortions on women they knew decided to abort at least in part because Down syndrome was in the fetus, or had reason to believe the condition was present.

Tuesday's decision reversed an October 2019 ruling by a divided three-judge 6th Circuit panel that said the law, House Bill 214, unlawfully prevented some women from obtaining pre-viability abortions.

Ohio's law had been challenged by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

"This abortion ban inserts politicians between patients and their doctors, denying services to those who need it," Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder where a person has an extra chromosome. Symptoms include cognitive impairment, slower physical growth, a flat face, a small head, a short neck and poor muscle tone.

Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder, who wrote Tuesday's majority opinion, said Ohio's law promoted the state's interests in destigmatizing Down syndrome children, and encouraging doctors to respond to such diagnoses with "care and healing."

The dissenters said the decision turns House Bill 214 into a "don't ask, don't tell" law for doctors and pregnant women.

Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald accused the majority of demonstrating unconcealed "hostility" toward Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion.

The case is Preterm-Cleveland et a v McCloud et al, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-3329. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)

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