Ohio judge blocks legislation preventing abortions in Down syndrome cases

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By Lauren del Valle, CNN

An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.

In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is “crystal clear” that “a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”

Kasich’s office declined to comment on the court order, citing pending litigation.

“The governor is pro-life and supports policies that protect the sanctity of life,” press secretary Jon Keeling told CNN when the legislation was first signed into law.

The law prohibits abortions after prenatal tests reveal Down syndrome in a fetus, or if there’s “any other reason to believe” the fetus has the genetic condition.

A person performing an abortion in such a case could face a fourth-degree felony charge, and physicians could lose their licenses. The woman seeking the abortion would not be held accountable, according to the legislation.

The ACLU filed a complaint in mid-February calling the legislation unconstitutional.

“This law does absolutely nothing to support people with disabilities — it’s just another ploy to make it nearly impossible for Ohio women to get the care they need. We are committed to making sure this unconstitutional law is never enforced, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer,” Legal Director for the ACLU of Ohio Freda Levenson said in a statement.

Similar laws have passed in North Dakota and Indiana, though a federal judge blocked the Indiana law. The North Dakota law went into effect in 2013.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects cognitive ability, causing mild to severe learning disabilities and distinctive facial characteristics. The condition can be diagnosed during pregnancy through prenatal screening tests. Treatment can include speech, occupational, emotional and other therapies; supplements and drugs; and assistive devices.

“It’s a tragedy that the court prioritized abortion on demand over special needs children,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, told CNN in a statement. “Luckily we have pro-life Attorney General Mike DeWine who will fiercely defend our law in order to protect our special needs community. This isn’t the end. This is just the beginning.”

“While we are reviewing this ruling to determine further action, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office will continue to vigorously defend Ohio law,” the attorney general’s spokesman Dan Tierney said.