Court decision again puts hold on abortion law


COLUMBUS - A federal appeals court yesterday again temporarily placed Ohio's more restrictive abortion law on hold.

The law, passed in 1998 but kept on the shelf since, had been scheduled to go into effect at 5 p.m. yesterday after a U.S. District Court judge in Cincinnati ruled the new restrictions did not place an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain an abortion.

The law requires that a patient have a face-to-face informational meeting about the procedure and the potential risks with a physician at least 24 hours before her scheduled abortion. It also requires that minors receive consent from a parent, not simply put a parent on notice, before undergoing the procedure.

Earlier in the day, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Sandra S. Beckwith refused to delay her two-week-old order allowing the law to go into effect, despite arguments that clinics needed more time to prepare.

"This statute has lain dormant for seven years while this lawsuit has wound its way to a conclusion," she wrote. "It has been seven years, and the people of Ohio are entitled to have this law go into effect without further delay."

The 6th Circuit then stepped in, preserving the status quo at least until it considers the opponents' motion for an indefinite delay pending the outcome of their appeal.

"All this means is that the state can't force clinics to implement the law," said Al Gerhardstein, attorney for the Cincinnati clinic that challenged the law. "A clinic, out of exasperation over all the fits and starts, can choose to implement the law if they want to."

The Center for Choice near downtown Toledo has not decided yet whether to proceed with its plans to comply with the law now that the immediate deadline has been lifted. It has already placed three physicians on call to fulfill the face-to-face meeting requirement. That was in addition to the physician that performs the abortions.

"It doesn't need to be the physician doing the surgery [who participates in the meeting], nor does it have to occur in the establishment where the abortion is taking place," said center Director Sue Postal.

Although the old law that remains in effect allowed patients to receive information via mail or by picking up a pamphlet at least 24 hours before the procedure, the Center for Choice required the patient to meet with a nonphysician staff member and watch a video.

Ms. Postal said the patient has always been asked if she has a question for the doctor, although whether that question was answered in person or via a follow-up telephone call depended on the doctor's schedule.

Mark Lally, legislative director for Ohio Right to Life, said he hoped the 6th Circuit will act quickly on the opponents' request for an extended delay.

"We agree with Judge Beckwith that the people of Ohio, acting through their representatives, have determined this is a necessary public health and safety measure," he said.

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.