Columbus files brief with Supreme Court for 29 cities and counties opposing Mississippi abortion law

Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch
Zach Klein

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein, on behalf of the city and 28 other cities and counties nationwide, has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Center for Reproductive Rights’ challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Klein said the Mississippi law is in direct defiance of federal law established by the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. That 1973 landmark ruling held that women had a constitutional right to an abortion within the first six months of pregnancy, when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.

Ohio abortion-rights advocates have reason for great concern over the pending Supreme Court decision to hear arguments in December concerning the Mississippi law that will test all states' ability to ban pre-viability abortions, Klein said.

Upending that long-settled law would be giving the green light to Ohio's "regressive" Republican-controlled legislature to outlaw abortion, he said.

"We should all be concerned about access to health care in a state like Ohio" if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi's abortion restriction, Klein told The Dispatch Tuesday.

Some of the cities joining Columbus in the brief supporting abortion rights include Cincinnati, Dayton, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Oakland, Portland, Saint Paul, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Klein's amicus, or "friend of the court" brief focuses largely on the argument that affluent women will continue to be able to get abortions by traveling to other states, while poor and mostly Black women will lose all realistic access, "worsening negative health outcomes and economic vulnerabilities" that municipal health departments fight to eradicate.

"Such an outcome would work at cross-purposes to the crucial efforts undertaken by local governments nationwide to combat endemic disparities in our public health system," the brief states.

Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, agrees that big changes are coming to the Ohio abortion landscape if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, and he believes it will do so by a 5-4 vote.

"This is the best, most pro-life court we've had in a generation," Gonidakis said. "...Most likely what's going to happen is they're going to say the Mississippi law stands, so Roe v. Wade is overturned," a ruling likely to arrive next summer.

If that happens, "it's definitely going to have some sort of impact on cases going in Ohio," said Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Earlier this year, a federal judge extended a temporary stay on Ohio’s 2019 “heartbeat” abortion ban, meaning the law signed in April 2019 by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, a staunch pro-life advocate, will remain on hold. That law prohibits abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, or as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant.

Depending on what the Supreme Court says either way, "it could definitely have an affect on the six-week heartbeat bill," HIll said.

Gonidakis says his group plans to have a "trigger bill," automatically banning all abortions in Ohio if Roe gets overturned, on DeWine's desk by Christmas, ahead of the justices' decision. "We have super-veto-proof majorities in the (Ohio) House and Senate," he said, adding that DeWine is a personal friend and supporter.

The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is even hearing arguments, combined with its decision earlier this month to refuse to grant a temporary injunction immediately blocking  a new Texas law prohibiting most abortions, "is not a good sign," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, which supports access to abortion care, birth control, paid parental leave, and protections against pregnancy discrimination.

"Wealthy people, they'll flee the state to get the care that they need," Copeland said. "But what happens to the rest of us?"

Minorities "will be under extreme scrutiny, and be criminalized at rates much higher than white folks will be," Copeland said.

"Politicians opposed to abortion have been working for decades to shift the balance of the court for just this moment: the opportunity to overturn 50 years of precedent under Roe v. Wade and end access to safe, legal abortion," Aileen Day, communication director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said in an email.