The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a complaint Thursday on behalf of several abortion providers seeking to block a state law that bans abortions "because an unborn child has or may have Down Syndrome."
Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 214 into law late last year, although it is not scheduled to take effect until March 23, 2018.
The legislation makes it a felony for a provider to perform an abortion or try to when there is any "reason to believe that an unborn child has Down syndrome," including a prenatal test. The physician could also have his or her medical license revoked under the law.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of abortion providers including Preterm Cleveland and Planned Parenthood, says the legislation is unconstitutional, violating "the very heart of the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy and autonomy." It says the legislation also undermines the mission of physicians "to honor and support the decisions their patients make."
The plaintiffs are asking the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to issue a permanent injunction.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome that can present itself with varying mental and physical challenges. The Centers for Disease Control says every year around 6,000 babies in the United States are born with it — about one out of every 700 births. Maternal age is a known risk factor, with women aged 35 or older likelier to be affected, according to the CDC.
According to the complaint, only a "a small percentage" of patients seek abortions based solely or in part on a prenatal diagnosis or test of Down syndrome: "These patients typically come to the clinic only after undergoing extensive counseling with a high-risk obstetrician-gynecologist."
The anti-abortion rights group Ohio Right to Life, which campaigned for the bill, says, "While elective abortion is never the right choice, it's particularly egregious that unborn children can be denied life simply due to the presence of a disability."
But Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio says the ban is "a thinly-veiled attempt to criminalize abortion in Ohio."
"If Ohio politicians wanted to proactively take a stance for people with disabilities, they should improve access to health care, education, or other services," she said in a statement.
The Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health non-profit, says around a quarter of American women will have an abortion by the age of 45. But the abortion rate has been declining in recent years, the group says, because "the wave of state abortion restrictions enacted since 2011 could have made abortion more difficult to access."
The Associated Press says anti-abortion-rights activists "have pushed through several hundred state laws restricting access to the procedure over the past decade."
Ohio is the third state to ban abortions due to fetal anomalies after similar laws were passed in Indiana and North Dakota, reports Reuters.
In Ohio, The Dayton Daily News reports state lawmakers are considering several other measures to restrict access to abortion, including "bills that would make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion using a surgical procedure commonly used in second trimester abortions; ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks gestation; and require cremation or burial of aborted fetuses."