Abortion is Still Legal in Ohio

Dr. Catherine Romanos

Dr. Catherine Romanos

When it comes to abortion access, there has been a flurry of activity in the Ohio statehouse and in the courts over the last few weeks.  Keeping track of which laws have been passed, signed, blocked, and enacted is confusing even for well-informed and well-meaning physicians.  Hopefully, this will help you better understand the state of affairs in Ohio as of now, May 31, 2019.  Above all, abortion is still legal in Ohio, and we must ensure our patients know this to be true.

The ban on abortion after the detection of a fetal cardiac activity was passed by the Ohio House and Senate and signed by Governor DeWine in April 2019.  It does not include an exception for pregnancies that result form rape or incest, making it one of the most extreme such laws.  It is scheduled to take effect in July, but a lawsuit has been filed and there is every reason to believe that it will be blocked by the courts and set on a path of a long, legal battle.

The legal issue at hand being that banning an abortion before viability is contrary to the precedent set by Roe v Wade in 1973 and affirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.  In each of the other five states where such a ban has been enacted, it has been blocked or has not yet taken effect (AR, GA, IA, KY, MS, ND).  The essentially six-week ban is not in effect and abortion is still legal in Ohio for the foreseeable future. Patients can still access the health care that they need, and we as providers are still legally protected to provide that care.

The ban on the most common surgical procedure used in second trimester abortions, dilation and evacuation (D&E), was signed into law at the end of 2018 and as of April 2019, has been partially blocked by a federal judge.  This, too, likely faces a lengthy legal battle.  For all intents and purposes, this ban does not prohibit D&E and it is still legal in Ohio through 21 weeks and 6 days.  (Remember the "20 week ban" is 20 weeks post fertilization, not since last menstrual period [LMP]).

In 2017, a ban on abortion after a diagnosis of Down syndrome was signed into law.  This, too, has been blocked by the courts and awaits appeal.  It is still legal to have an abortion after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome is made. 

Many of these bans also criminalize the provision of one of the safest medical procedures in health care. These bans make evidence-based practices a felony for doctors who perform abortion and for the patients who seek out this health care.  ACOG, AMA, AAP, and AAFP among others have strongly condemned the criminalization of evidence-based medicine. 

Although these bans have not taken effect in Ohio, there are many laws that have already taken effect and have restricted access to safe and legal abortion.  Among these are transfer agreements, gag orders, waiting periods, fetal heartbeat determinations, and a ban on abortion after 22 weeks LMP – all limiting patients’ rights to control their reproductive lives if they live in Ohio.  ACOG, in particular, has been clear on the dangers of restricting access to safe and legal abortion.   In Ohio, the number of clinics offering surgical abortion has fallen from 14 in 2013 to 7 in 2019.

Major medical organizations including the AMA and ACOG support access to evidence based medicine, including abortion, health care that we know based on medical evidence is enviably safe compared to other medical procedures, and the sanctity of the Physician Patient relationship. We need to call on our other medical and specialty organizations to do the same.  Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA), in particular, needs to be on the front lines, defending evidence based care and access to abortion care, and in opposing the criminalization of medicine. 

To help patients access clinics that meet their needs, refer to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.


DISCLAIMER: The Columbus Medical Association is on record supporting evidence-based medicine and the sanctity of the physician patient relationship.  Abortion remains a divisive issue with our membership representing all sides of the debate, and the CMA has no official position on abortion. The views represented by Dr. Romanos are her own.