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Federal judge issues preliminary injunction blocking parts of Ind. antiabortion-rights law

A federal judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction blocking an Indiana law (HEA 1337) that would prohibit abortion care sought because of the race or sex of the fetus or a disability diagnosis, the New York Times reports.

According to the Times, the injunction is the first federal court decision suggesting that banning abortion based on a fetal anomaly diagnosis is unconstitutional (Smith/Eckholm, New York Times, 6/30). The law was scheduled to take effect July 1 (Madden, Reuters, 6/30).

Background

Under the law, physicians who provide abortion care when they know the procedure is sought because of the race or sex of the fetus or a disability diagnosis could face civil liability or disciplinary action. In addition, the law requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or a contract with a physician who has such privileges.

The law also mandates that fetal tissue resulting from abortion or miscarriage be cremated or interred. Further, the law makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally transport fetal tissue into the state or across state lines unless the tissue is being moved for burial or cremation.

Lawsuit details

In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK), as well as a physician and a nurse practitioner who work with Planned Parenthood.

PPINK called on the court to declare the law unconstitutional and requested an injunction to halt its enforcement. According to the suit, the law encroaches upon a woman's right to access abortion care in the first trimester. The suit stated that the law "imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to choose an abortion because it bars that choice under certain circumstances, even if the pregnancy is in its early stages and the fetus is not viable."

PPINK also argued that the law violates health care providers' free speech rights by requiring them to tell patients about an unconstitutional law. In addition, the suit challenged the law's costly fetal tissue burial and cremation requirements, which are not in place for other kinds of medical waste (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/8).

Separately, Indiana University (IU) also has filed a lawsuit against the law, contending that it will interfere with the university's research efforts. Specifically, IU argued the law is unconstitutionally vague, interferes with interstate commerce and violates the First Amendment right to academic freedom of Debomoy Lahiri, a professor of psychiatry and a researcher at IU's Stark Neurosciences Research Institute (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/27).

Judge issues preliminary injunction

On Thursday, Federal District Court for Southern Indiana Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued the preliminary injunction, stating that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on a woman's right to abortion prior to fetal viability (New York Times, 6/30). She wrote, "The United States Supreme Court has stated in categorical terms that a state may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability" (Reuters, 6/30).

Pratt wrote that restricting the reasons for an abortion is "inconsistent with the notion of a right rooted in privacy concerns and a liberty right to make independent decisions" (New York Times, 6/30). Noting that state officials had failed to cite any exceptions to the constitutional right to abortion care before fetal viability, Pratt noted, "This is unsurprising given that it is a woman's right to choose an abortion that is protected, which, of course, leaves no room for the state to examine the basis or bases upon which a woman makes her choice" (Davies, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/30).

Pratt noted that the law, if permitted to take effect as scheduled, would inflict "irreparable harm." Citing the "complicated health decisions ... made by women whose pregnancies are affected by a prenatal fetal anomaly," Pratt wrote, "Given the relatively short time frame in which women may elect to terminate a pregnancy, even a short disruption of a woman's ability to do so could have significant consequences."

The decision also blocks the law's fetal tissue disposal requirements.

Comments

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the ruling, noting that "momentum" from the Supreme Court's decision to strike down two abortion restrictions in a Texas omnibus abortion law (HB 2) was helping advocates overturn the Indiana law and other state antiabortion-rights laws.

"These unconstitutional laws punish women, and we will bring them down, law by law and state by state," Richards said, adding, "We have been fighting these restrictions on all fronts for years, organizing in the field, building for this moment -- and now the wind is at our backs" (New York Times, 6/30).

Separately, Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said, "We are extremely pleased that Indiana's attempt to violate women's basic rights has been thwarted." He continued, "This law attempted to do exactly what Supreme Court precedent said could not be done: invade a woman's privacy rights by preventing her from deciding whether to obtain a pre-viability abortion" (Reuters, 6/30).

Dawn Johnsen, a law professor at IU, said the decision is a "very strong reaffirmation of the constitutional right as the Supreme Court has interpreted it, but applied to new, creative, harmful restrictions" (New York Times, 6/30).