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Judge blocks Ohio ban on abortions due to Down syndrome

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A state law that prohibits doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome was placed on hold by a federal judge on Wednesday.

Judge Timothy Black said the law's opponents are "highly likely" to succeed in arguing the law is unconstitutional because "federal law is crystal clear" that a state can't limit a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy before viability. His ruling means the law won't take effect next week, as scheduled, while the litigation proceeds.

A legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Freda Levenson, said the judge acted appropriately against "a thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion."

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed the legal challenge last month against the Ohio Department of Health, the state medical board and county prosecutors on behalf of Preterm in Cleveland and other abortion providers. They sought the temporary injunction granted Wednesday and a permanent stay of the law.

Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that championed the law, criticized the judge's ruling.

"It's a tragedy that the court prioritized abortion-on-demand over special needs children," group president Mike Gonidakis said. "Our pro-life law simply ensured that Ohioans with Down syndrome would be protected against lethal discrimination. Unfortunately, the ACLU and the abortion industry callously disregarded these Ohioans."

Gonidakis said abortion foes are counting on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, who opposes abortion, to "fiercely defend our law in order to protect our special needs community." DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the attorney general's office was reviewing the decision and intended "to vigorously defend the law."

The law, signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich in December, makes it a crime for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy based on knowledge of Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

Specifically, it makes performing an abortion in such cases a felony and requires the state medical board to revoke the physician's license upon conviction. It imposes no punishment on women seeking the procedure in such cases.

The president of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, Jerry Lawson, said the law "is about restricting abortion, plain and simple."

"The patient-doctor relationship is critical," Lawson said. "A woman should be able to trust her physicians and have confidential conversations with them without worrying about government interference."

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