COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The voice-mail system at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio has been inundated with calls since a judge recognized a challenge to the state’s abortion law and temporarily blocked it.
One day after a Cincinnati judge issued a two-week restraining order, halting the enforcement of Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, a call center agent for the state’s Planned Parenthood locations said Thursday its clinicians at a downtown Columbus location will resume providing second trimester abortions up to 20 weeks’ gestation.
Since Kiesha Mitchell clocked in to work around 8:30 a.m. Thursday, she said the phone lines at Planned Parenthood, responsible for 17 centers across Ohio, have been ringing off the hook.
“I don’t think I’ve been able to take a break since I came in,” she said.
Downtown Columbus clinic resumes abortion up to 20 weeks
On Wednesday, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins deemed the state’s abortion law, which bans it once fetal cardiac activity is detected, unconstitutional because it “clearly discriminates against pregnant women” and poses an “enormous burden” on their ability to access health care, he wrote in his opinion.
That means Planned Parenthood of East Columbus on East Main Street — one of the six remaining surgical abortion centers in Ohio — will resume providing abortion up to the 20th week of pregnancy, Mitchell said, returning to its normal operations in place before the state’s six-week ban took effect.
“This was great news for us to hear during our meeting this morning,” Mitchell said. “Everybody is happy, of course, to serve our patients as best we can.”
Whether it’s a patient calling the clinic or sitting in one of Planned Parenthood’s waiting rooms, Mitchell said “they definitely seem a little more relieved” without the fear of having to travel out of state for the procedure.
Three Ohio clinics provide medication-only abortion services and four provide telemedicine-only clinics, both of which must be obtained within 10 weeks of conception, according to Jessie Hill, lead counsel for the ACLU of Ohio. Along with the six surgical clinics, that brings Ohio’s total number of abortion clinics to 13.
Although some private primary care physicians perform abortions, Hill said about 90% occur in a clinic.
A poll commissioned by NBC4, Emerson College and The Hill found Ohio voters, when asked about the state’s six-week ban in early September, are split right down the middle. Exactly 500 respondents said they support the ban, and the remaining 500 opposed the ban.
Dayton clinic resumes abortion up to 14 weeks
At the Dayton Women’s Med Center, the June enactment of Ohio’s six-week ban hit the clinic especially hard, spokesperson Val Haskell said in an email. The 40-year-old clinic that solely provides abortions was on the verge of shutting its doors.
“The Ohio law as it stood before the [restraining order] was so extremely restrictive, only one in 15 women seeking an abortion could actually qualify to receive one,” Haskell said. “Therefore, it wouldn’t be feasible to stay open.”
For the two-and-a-half months in which the heartbeat law was in effect, Haskell said the Dayton clinic referred patients who were ineligible for an abortion under Ohio law to a clinic in Indiana.
But given Jenkins’ ruling, Women’s Med Center will now terminate pregnancies up to 14 weeks “and gradually progress from there,” Haskell said. As the clinic awaits a court decision in Indiana that is “very similar to the case in Ohio,” patients in Indianapolis will be referred to Dayton Women’s Med Center.
Next steps: Judge to weigh evidence, determine whether to issue injunction
Over the next two weeks, Jenkins will determine whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which would block enforcement of the state’s abortion law until the case concludes, according to Hill.
If Jenkins needs extra time to weigh any additional evidence or arguments submitted by both parties over the next 14 days, he can extend the restraining order.
Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis condemned Jenkins’ ruling, adding that Ohioans will not find any evidence in the state’s constitution or revised code that abortion is a protected right.
“We are more than confident that the heartbeat law will go back into effect relatively soon,” Gonidakis said. “Further, we can assure pro-life Ohio that in the near future Ohio will become abortion free, regardless of what this local judge ruled. We will prevail.”
Hill, however, said she is hopeful that Judge Jenkins will rule in the ACLU of Ohio’s favor once again, as he “seemed to give a lot more weight to our arguments,” she said.
“It was really gratifying to see the ruling and to see that the judge recognized that we had the better argument in this case,” Hill said. “It’s just, we put in so much evidence of the incredibly devastating impact this law has made.”