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ACLU sues over abortion provisions in Ohio budget

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Three contentious abortion-related provisions of Ohio's budget violate a constitutional rule holding bills to a single subject, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

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FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 photo, Ruth Clevenger of Chagrin Falls, Ohio waves an American flag during the "We Won't Go Back" Rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The American Civil Liberties Union argues in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 that three contentious abortion-related provisions of Ohio’s two-year budget violate a constitutional rule holding bills to a single subject. (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Brooke LaValley)

The lawsuit was filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Preterm, a Cleveland women's health clinic that provides contraception, pregnancy counseling and abortions.

It targets three amendments included in the $62 billion, two-year operating budget passed by lawmakers in June, maintaining they violate the state Constitution's "single subject" rule.

One bans public hospitals from making transfer agreements with abortion clinics. Another requires clinics to present patients with evidence of a fetal heartbeat and other set information before performing an abortion, or face criminal penalties. A third funnels state money to private groups prohibited from mentioning abortion services as part of a "parenting and pregnancy" program.

"None of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill," said Susan Scheutzow, an ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. "This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy. The single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations."

Single-subject rules exist to avoid complexity in legislation, to prevent unintended consequences and to keep lawmakers from tucking items into bills without the knowledge of the public or at times legislative colleagues.

But the president of Ohio Right to Life says the single-subject rule isn't really motivating the legal action.

"It has nothing to do with the Ohio Constitution," the president, Mike Gonidakis, said in a statement. "This is nothing more than a pro-abortion legal stunt by the ACLU which ultimately will cost Ohio taxpayers significantly."

Ohio Democrats and other abortion rights advocates repeatedly have sought to call out Republicans who lead both legislative chambers for slipping the abortion provisions into the budget at the last minute. Many of the provisions — including the effective defunding of Planned Parenthood, which is not cited in the lawsuit — were contained in bills pending at the time.

Last week, a rally opposing the provisions drew at least several hundred protesters to the Statehouse, including the national presidents of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Gonidakis said the wish of advocates is "abortion-on-demand," a phrase whose use is growing among abortion foes in Ohio as the fight over the budget amendments intensifies.

"This lawsuit contradicts itself," he said. "On the one hand, the ACLU claims the budget 'should be' for appropriating funds and, on the other hand, they claim that they do not like how the funds are appropriated."

Jessie Hill, an ACLU cooperating attorney who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, said arguments laid out in the suit are strengthened by the fact that many abortion-related budget provisions were included at one time in separate bills.

She said the suit will not immediately affect enforcement of the provisions.

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