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By Lauren Gibbons, Bridge Michigan
By Susan Tebben, Ohio Capital Journal
With the abortion landscape changing in Ohio and around the country, one abortion rights group is building up its legal effort for those seeking or providing abortion care.
Abortion Fund of Ohio recently announced the launch of its Legal Access Program, through a partnership with law firm Friedman, Nemecek, & Long, L.L.C., that will provide free legal assistance and referrals to attorneys “for Ohioans facing criminal and civil penalties for reproductive health care.”
“We’re building out a network of lawyers who will take on these cases, so that we have more lawyer power,” said Morgan Mitchell, legal access fellow for AFO.
Mitchell said cases are popping up in the state where confusion and lack of knowledge of where abortion and procedures that could be connected to abortion (like miscarriage, medically called a “spontaneous abortion”) legally stands.
In one such case, covered by NPR, a woman wondered if the six-week abortion ban was causing doctors to hesitate in treating her heavy bleeding at a Painesville emergency room, bleeding that had already been confirmed to be caused by a miscarriage.
Currently, abortion is still legal up to 22 weeks in Ohio after a state court blocked a six-week ban indefinitely, but national fights against receiving medication abortion through the mail and a discussion of abortion bans on the federal level have advocates worried that reproductive healthcare may be fought for in the courts rather than medical clinics and hospitals.
Ohio’s own Attorney General Dave Yost signed onto a letter with more than a dozen other state attorneys general warning CVS and Walgreens against distributing medication to induce abortions through the mail due to various state laws that prohibit it. Ohio’s law, passed in 2022, forbids abortion medication to be provided to patients without a physician present.
A recent study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, co-authored by researchers from three Ohio universities, said even the regulations that are in effect involve working with state administration, and the bureaucracy has created an system where regulations “have become exceedingly difficult to comply with” for abortion providers.
Even medical students in the state are left nervous and confused about what restrictions may mean for their education and future career, should they decide to provide reproductive healthcare.
One group the legal access program is particularly hoping to help is minors who may want to use a legal method to get around needing the consent of their parents to obtain an abortion, a method called judicial bypass.
According to the Ohio Supreme Court, a minor seeking consent to have an abortion can petition juvenile court in their county of residence or in a border county, with the help of a court-appointed attorney if they don’t have one.
A judge then determines if a minor “is sufficiently mature and well enough informed to decide intelligently whether to consent to an abortion or that the abortion is in the best interests of the (minor).”
Judicial bypass has been on the books since before the fall of Roe v. Wade, but the legal access program is only including that as part of the legal options so that Ohioans know all their legal rights.
“We’re just trying to let people know this exists, we’re not telling people to have an abortion, or telling their parents they’re bad parents,” Mitchell said.
With the six-week ban (and other abortion bans that were attempted but not passed by Ohio legislators in previous years) not including any exceptions for rape or incest, and no standards for sex education present in the state, Mitchell said it’s frustrating that a minor has to go to court to prove maturity and intelligence, when some legislators would force them to bear a child, no matter their age.
“It’s really an attack on bodily autonomy and it’s scary to see it be separated from health care, because this is a decision you’re making for your body,” Mitchell said. “We want to be able to give anyone regardless of age the opportunity to pursue whatever they want with their bodies.”
The six-week ban pause is being appealed by the state.
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.
The Ohio Capital Journal is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to connecting Ohioans to their state government and its impact on their lives. The Capital Journal combines Ohio state government coverage with incisive investigative journalism, reporting on the consequences of policy, political insight and principled commentary.
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