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The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Clinics and providers in Ohio have been having their phones ring constantly since an Ohio judge temporarily blocked a law that restricted most abortions in the state.
Northeast Ohio Women’s Center had eliminated a few sections of their practice across the Cleveland-Akron area, but they will probably be able to reopen as early as next week due to high demand, said Dr. David Burkons, owner and medical director of the clinics.
It all started last Wednesday evening when Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Christian Jenkins decided to grant a 14-day restraining order against the law.
“Well, we’ve seen the phones and the websites have just been deluged with people,” Burkons said.
Callers are asking if it is true and if they could get in. People out of state have been calling to schedule as well.
The ACLU of Ohio and abortion clinics sued the state, saying the ban was unconstitutional and violated individual liberty, equal protection and the right to privacy. The groups also added that the law is unconstitutionally vague.
Burkons hoped this day would come, and when he saw that Jenkins would get to decide whether the ban was legal, the doctor started to prepare.
“We had been keeping lists of patients who had been too far,” he added. “We told them if this happens, we will call you. We called them. They were overjoyed.”
There is a two-week pause on the ban, but the judge was so strong in his opinion that abortion is a constitutional right that Ohio Right to Life’s Elizabeth Whitmarsh said it’s clear that the judge will block the law during the trial and he will decide against the abortion ban.
“No great stretch is required to find that Ohio law recognizes a fundamental right to privacy, procreation, bodily integrity and freedom of choice in health care decision making,” Jenkins wrote.
Now, Whitmarsh knows she has to look months down the line for her solution.
“We’re not going to just throw our hands up and say, ‘oh, well, we tried,'” Whitmarsh said. “There will be an Ohio Supreme Court that, when they hear this case, we’re going to have a bench that is filled with justices that hold to the Constitution and not to anti-life activism.”
She isn’t letting this get her or other pro-life activists too upset.
“We’re very familiar with this fight,” she added. “If anything, I would say beforehand that was more unchartered territory for the pro-life movement — being kind of on the winning side of it, so we’re used to the battlefront.”
She is now encouraging people to vote for Supreme Court justices who represent their values, since they will likely be the ones with the final word on the abortion law. The races for governor, attorney general and the three justices are her priority.
“These races that are going to be happening and taking place this November, it’s going to be crucial to how we move forward,” she said.
She thinks this ruling will encourage pro-life Ohioans to voter, but Burkons said it won’t matter.
“I personally think, and this is from my point of view, the people that are on the right-to-life side, they’ve been voting all the time — this is a top issue for them,” the doctor said.
In comparison, liberals and progressives have cared about being pro-choice, but it wasn’t the top of their list of issues to vote on. Now, it is, he added.
“The mobilization is going to be much greater on the pro-choice side than the anti-choice side, because I think the anti-choice people are basically zealots and they have been voting in large numbers, they’ve been voting as much as they can,” he said.
A News 5 analysis found that after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe and Ohio enacted abortion access restrictions, tens of thousands of women in the state had registered to vote, making the Buckeye state one of the fastest-growing in the country in terms of new women voters.
“I always felt that if Roe was overturned, we were going to see a shift,” Burkons said. “I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it is.”
He and his teams are even getting calls and seeing patients who are protestors outside his clinics, he said.
“I think what’s happening is the right-to-life movement for the Republican Party is going to prove to be an emperor that has no clothes,” the doctor said. “It’s easy to say I’m against something when you know that it’s always there if you really need it.”
Whitmarsh is also waiting for the total abortion ban to be brought back up in the Statehouse.
House Bill 598 was sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Loveland, and it would ban abortion without exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother or pregnant person. This was argued on the committee floor, but lawmakers came to the conclusion that saving the life of the mother would be an “affirmative defense.”
This is the same bill that made national news after Schmidt said rape was an “opportunity” for a hypothetical 13-year-old girl who was raped and impregnated by a relative.
“There’s a strong, strong likelihood that that will be passed and signed by the end of 2022,” Whitmarsh said.
Burkons isn’t so sure about that timeline, noting that it takes time to pass a bill, have it signed by the governor and then have it go into effect. The Republicans would need to get the bill passed now.
“I think that [the Republicans] realize that this is, right now, not a real good issue, because if you compare with Indiana, which is a bit redder even than Ohio, they went right ahead and passed the bill,” he said. “Ohio could have called a special session, but they didn’t.”
He figures the law will be passed around the first of the year. Then the question becomes if the six-week bill is unconstitutional, wouldn’t that also make the more restrictive ban unconstitutional as well, he said.
Now, Ohioans just have to wait. The judge will be making a decision within 13 days about whether he will extend the block for another two weeks to give him time to think or if he is just going to completely block the law until the trial is over.
Until then, expect clinics to have “sidewalk advocacy groups,” to encourage life, Whitmarsh said.
“They’re definitely going to go back out to those abortion mills and make sure there is support there,” she said.
“Sidewalk advocacy groups” are just loud and invasive protestors to Burkons.
“These people that are outside the clinic yelling at you and screaming at you, they don’t know you,” the doctor said. “They don’t know anything about you, but somehow they know what you should do with your life and they want to make the choice for you when it’s your job to make the choice for yourself.”
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