ACLU requests hearing, decision in dispute over abortion-related provisions of Ohio's budget

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is requesting a hearing and summary ruling in a lawsuit over abortion-related provisions contained in the state's two-year budget.

The court filing on Monday came as abortion clinics have been grappling with a provision that bans publicly funded hospitals from having patient transfer agreements with facilities that provide abortions. Ohio law simultaneously requires such transfer agreements to be in place, in what abortion rights groups have dubbed a de facto restriction on abortion.

No hearings have been held in the case since the ACLU filed on behalf of a women's health clinic in October 2013 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The clinic, Preterm-Cleveland Inc., provides contraception, pregnancy counseling and abortions.

The lawsuit says the transfer agreement provision and two other abortion-related pieces of the budget violate a constitutional rule holding bills to one subject.

Single-subject rules exist to avoid complexity in legislation, to prevent unintended consequences and to keep lawmakers from tucking items into bills without the knowledge of the public or legislative colleagues.

The lawsuit also challenges a provision requiring clinics to present patients with evidence of a fetal heartbeat and certain other information before performing an abortion, or face penalties. Another provision funnels federal money to private organizations prohibited from mentioning abortion services as part of a "parenting and pregnancy" program.

The ACLU's attorneys said in the filing that the court should strike down the provisions and declare them void and unenforceable.

"These provisions do not relate to the state budget or appropriations and have nothing to do with the purpose of the Budget Bill," wrote Jessie Hill, an ACLU cooperating attorney who teaches at Case Western Reserve University.

Attorneys for the state have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing in part that Preterm lacks standing.

Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio, said the organization is seeking clarity for all clinics over the constitutionality of the new rules.

"We need to have an answer — not just for Preterm but for all the clinics around the state," he said.

Toledo's last abortion clinic is appealing an order from the state Department of Health to close following a hearing officer's recommendation that said the clinic lacked a valid emergency care agreement with a "local" hospital. The clinic has argued that an agreement with a hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, more than 50 miles away, puts it in compliance with the new Ohio law. State officials disagree.

Last month, a Cincinnati-area abortion clinic ended its fight with the state over its license revocation and said it would stop performing surgical abortions. Clinic officials blamed politics and the new state rules.

The provisions were included in the state's $62 billion, two-year operating budget passed by lawmakers in June 2013.

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