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Government & Politics

Justice Department Defends Ohio's Down Syndrome Abortion Ban

Abortion rights advocates protest the Down Syndrome ban on abortions at the Ohio Statehouse in 2017.
Abortion rights advocates protest the Down Syndrome ban on abortions at the Ohio Statehouse in 2017.

The federal government is defending Ohio’s Down syndrome abortion ban in court.

The Justice Department filed a brief Tuesday taking the state’s side in a lawsuit over the 2017 law, which prohibits doctors from performing abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

“Nothing in Ohio’s law creates a substantial obstacle to women obtaining an abortion, and nothing in the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent requires States to authorize medical providers to participate in abortions the providers know are based on Down syndrome,” the department wrote.

The law, passed by Republican majorities in the legislature and signed by former Gov. John Kasich, creates criminal penalties for physicians convicting of performing an abortion after a diagnosis of Down syndrome. It would also strip physicians of their medical license and hold them liable for legal damages. Pregnant women would not be held criminally liable under the law.

The ACLU of Ohio, representing Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, sued the Ohio Department of Health, the state medical board and county prosecutors, arguing that the ban creates an undue burden on the right to an abortion.

Backers of the bill, including Ohio Right To Life, argue that the law prevents discrimination. The Justice Department takes a similar stance in its brief.

“It protects individuals with disabilities from prejudice and indifference and the medical profession from harm to its integrity and reputation,” the brief reads. “The law also wards against the slippery slope to medical involvement in race- or sex-based abortions.”

Last month, the full Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to re-hear the case after a three-judge panel ruled in October that the law was likely unconstitutional.

The law remains blocked from taking effect.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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