The state of Ohio must pay nearly $400,000 to cover legal fees accrued by Planned Parenthood and another health care provider in a challenge to a 2004 anti-abortion measure, a federal appeals court held on Thursday.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which is based in Cincinnati, affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the organizations had made their case for payment of attorney fees and costs.
The original lawsuit had challenged a 2004 Ohio law that sought to limit physician prescriptions of mifepristone, or RU-486, a synthetic steroid often referred to as “the abortion pill.” The law aimed to compel providers to adhere to the Food and Drug Administration’s protocol for administering RU-486 issued in 2000, rather than prescribe the drug based on more up-to-date medical evidence.
Planned Parenthood and others won a near-immediate injunction that ultimately prevented the law from being implemented until 2011. A 2016 study published by PLOS Medicine suggested that the law, once in effect, actually led to worse medical outcomes. In March 2016, the FDA updated its standards, thereby freeing providers in Ohio to prescribe the drug based on the newer standards ― and mooting the case.
Planned Parenthood and the other health care provider then sought to recover their legal fees under a federal law that allows such awards for prevailing parties in some civil rights cases. The 6th Circuit agreed with the lower court that the plaintiffs had “prevailed” in this case because the injunctive relief they won “was based on the merits of its claim, provided a benefit to the plaintiffs, and was sufficiently lasting.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) said he disagreed with the 6th Circuit’s ruling. “We will seek further review,” he said in a statement.
The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature has passed some of the most restrictive abortion measures in the nation in recent years, which the courts have mostly struck down.
“The Ohio state legislature has in the past — and is continuing even up to the present day — passed laws that they know and we know are clearly unconstitutional, to try to restrict women’s reproductive rights,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “We have won, we’re continuing to win.” (The ACLU of Ohio represented Preterm, the other health care provider in the case.)
In a separate case in February, Planned Parenthood sued the state over its ban on the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation. A judge blocked a portion of the law in April, preventing Ohio in most cases from criminally charging physicians who perform the procedure as long as that Planned Parenthood suit is being litigated. U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett said in his ruling that the law would probably be ruled unconstitutional, according to NBC News.
In early July, the same judge temporarily blocked Ohio’s so-called “heartbeat” law from taking effect, holding that it places an “undue burden” on women seeking a “pre-viability” abortion. Barrett said the plaintiffs would likely succeed in arguing that the law is “unconstitutional on its face.”
The taxpayers of Ohio bear the “collateral results” of these laws, Levenson said.
“[Ohio passes] these bills knowing that they’re unconstitutional, that they’re going to be challenged, and that there’s going to be a price tag attached,” Levenson later added.