Religious leaders: Abortion law violates constitutional freedoms

Physicians speak to safety of abortion

By: - July 27, 2022 3:55 am

Members of the Jewish community have spoken out against abortion bans in Ohio, saying it infringes on their religious freedom. Photo by Morgan Trau, WEWS.

In court documents supporting an attempt to overturn an abortion law in Ohio, physicians and religious leaders spoke to the safety of the procedure and religious freedoms that could be infringed with the law.

The briefs were part of a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court fighting against Senate Bill 23, the law that was implemented the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the legal decision that had previously allowed the right to abortion nationwide. It bans abortion in Ohio after “detectable” cardiac activity, or at six weeks of pregnancy.

Physicians have been consistent in their criticism of the law and abortion bans in general. Religious leaders have been increasing their statements against abortion bans with regard to the constitutional freedom of religion.

“Senate Bill 23 denies Ohioans the freedom to practice their long-standing and sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to a brief supported by nearly three dozen individual rabbis and reverends, along with the Temple Beth Or, the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland, the Ohio Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ and Faith Choice Ohio.

The religious leaders said the law violated the constitution because it “imposes one religious viewpoint on the people of Ohio and prevents Ohioans, including (the religious leaders and groups) from freely exercising their religious beliefs.”

“This is not a hypothetical denial of religious freedoms,” they wrote. “Many religions recognize the right of a pregnant person to make the deeply personal decision of whether to continue a pregnancy in accordance with their faith at any stage of the pregnancy.”

The religious advocates from throughout Ohio said they felt compelled to file a brief against the law to “preserve their congregants and communities’ rights to make deeply personal decisions” and use their own religious beliefs to make those choices.

In Judaism, for example, religious law requires abortion “where the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the pregnant person,” according to the brief, and allows abortion in a “broad range of circumstances.”

“The removal of agency from pregnant people flies in the face of Jewish law,” leaders told the court.

While members of religious communities pushed on the right to abortion as an essential part of their faith, medical professionals continued their arguments that abortion is an “essential part of comprehensive health care.”

In a separate brief to the court pushing for a stop in enforcement of the abortion law, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine said in no uncertain terms: “When abortion is legal, it is safe.”

“(The medical groups) oppose Ohio’s six-week abortion ban because it jeopardizes the health and safety of pregnant people in Ohio and places extreme burdens and risks on providers of essential reproductive health care, without any valid medical justification,” the brief to the court stated.

Medical research supports their arguments to the court, the groups wrote to the court, and “the overwhelming weight of medical evidence” proves abortion is a “very safe medical procedure.”

Citing medical journals, state data and other data sources, the physicians groups said complication rates from abortion average about 2%, with most complications considered “minor and easily treatable.”

Major complications are “exceptionally rare,” according to their research.

“The risk of death from an abortion is even rarer: nationally, fewer than one in 100,00 patients die from an abortion-related complication,” the brief stated, citing reports from the CDC.

The harm to patient health comes more in banning abortions, according to ACOG, the AMA and the SMFM, by creating consequences for pregnant patients and forcing clinicians to delay needed medical care.

“Each of these outcomes increases the likelihood of negative consequences for the patient’s physical and psychological health that could be avoided if abortion were available,” the groups argue.

Exceptions included in the bill are also “insufficient” to protect patient health, the medical professionals concluded.

“The legislature’s attempt to identify a list of serious risks is necessarily incomplete, ill-advised and medically unsound,” according to the brief.

Agents from the state of Ohio named in the lawsuit, such as Attorney General Dave Yost, have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and allow the abortion law to continue.

Other abortion bans may be on the horizon if the legislature, which is currently on summer break, passes bills currently in committee to completely ban the procedures.

Follow OCJ Reporter Susan Tebben on Twitter.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.