By Jim Provance

Three abortion clinics sued Ohio in federal court Thursday to block implementation of a new law prohibiting an abortion when a patient believes the fetus may have Down syndrome.

"This new law criminalizes the performance of an abortion upon a woman if any part of her reason is an indication that the fetus has Down syndrome," said Freda Levenson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

"The criminal penalties are six to 18 months in prison, plus a fine, plus for a physician mandatory loss of their license to practice medicine," she said.

Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 214, sponsored by Reps. Sarah LaTourette (R., Chesterland) and Derek Merrin (R., Monclova Township), who characterized the measure as an anti-discrimination measure protecting those with Down syndrome.

Doctors would face the criminal and civil penalties if they proceed with an abortion after learning of the patient's motivation. The patient would face no such penalties.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati by clinics in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Dayton, a doctor who performs abortions, and Planned Parenthood of Ohio.

Among the defendants are the Ohio Department of Health, prosecutors in areas that might be asked to bring cases under the law, and Dr. Bruce R. Saferin, a Sylvania Township podiatrist who was recently reappointed to the State Medical Board that considers disciplinary action against doctors.

Nora Chestnut, 6, of Milford, has Down syndrome. Her mother, Emily, learned of the chromosomal defect upon Nora's birth as a twin. Her twin sister does not have the defect.

Although Emily Chestnut said it would have made no difference in her decision to proceed with the pregnancy, she bristles at the contention of the bill's supporters that they passed the law to protect people like Nora.

"When they signed this bill, Governor Kasich and state legislators used my child as a political tool to promote their own agenda," she said. "They don't care about Nora. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to ensure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy full life."

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, criticized the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

"It is a shame that an organization that claims to be the very biggest and best at defending victims of discrimination completely disregards the most vulnerable members of our society who are being discriminated against," he said. "The ACLU is hurting Ohio by constantly suing to further an extremist agenda."

The lawsuit charges that the law unconstitutionally infringes on a woman's right to access to abortion. It seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the bill from taking effect as scheduled on March 22.

The law is unusual in that it targets the patient's motivation for an abortion rather that the timing or specific procedure of an abortion.

The suit does not challenge other restrictions placed on abortion clinics in recent years by lawmakers, including the requirement for a clinic to have a written emergency transfer agreement with a local hospital that led to state's attempts to shut down Capital Care Network of Toledo.

Those participating in Thursday's press conference spoke of Capital Care as a victory because the clinic secured such an agreement with ProMedica on Wednesday. But the Department of Health has yet to accept it and revoke its closure order. A decision could happen at any time.

(c)2018 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)