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Indiana University plans to file lawsuit against state antiabortion-rights law

Indiana University (IU) plans to file a lawsuit challenging a state antiabortion-rights law (HEA 1337) that the university says will compromise its research efforts, an IU spokesperson said on Tuesday, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

The announcement follows a federal magistrate judge's decision to deny the university's motion to join an existing lawsuit challenging the measure (Kusmer, AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/24).

Background

The law, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1, bans abortion sought because of the sex of the fetus or a disability diagnosis. Physicians who provide abortion care when they know the procedure is sought for such reasons 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.

ACLU lawsuit

In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a lawsuit against 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. Defendants include the state health commissioner, members of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana and prosecutors in Lake, Marion, Monroe and Tippecanoe counties.

The lawsuit calls on the court to declare the law unconstitutional and requests an injunction to halt its enforcement. PPINK's lawsuit challenges the abortion bans as well as the fetal tissue disposal requirements.

IU seeks to join lawsuit

IU filed a motion to join PPINK's lawsuit. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (R) objected.

According to IU officials, the law's fetal tissue restrictions could subject researchers at the university to criminal charges. The university researchers use fetal tissue in their work studying Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses.

The university's motion asked the court for a preliminary injunction blocking the law. IU attorneys wrote that HEA 1337 "criminalizes millions of dollars of ongoing, federally funded IU research regarding Alzheimer's disease." According to the university's motion, the law's restrictions on fetal tissue are unconstitutionally vague. In addition, the motion states that the law would violate researchers' First Amendment rights by interfering with their right to academic freedom.

The motion stated, "(The law) jeopardizes the personal liberty of IU research scientists who are unable to conform their conduct to the fetal tissue statute's restrictions ... (It) exposes IU to tremendous losses of federal (National Institutes of Health) funding, of which IU receives nearly $200 million annually ... (and) impairs IU's standing as a pre-eminent research institution and discourages prominent researchers from choosing to conduct their research at IU" (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/23).

Latest developments

U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch denied IU's motion to join PPINK's lawsuit and instead suggested IU bring a lawsuit of its own, the AP/Bee reports. McVicker Lynch said IU in its motion raised issues distinct from those raised by PPINK. According to McVicker Lynch, adding IU to the PPINK lawsuit "would unnecessarily complicate this litigation and threaten to delay its resolution."

Margie Smith-Simmons, a spokesperson for IU, said the university plans to file its own lawsuit "immediately." She said, "The law will institute sweeping and unconstitutional prohibitions on the acquisition and sharing of fetal tissue that would irreparably harm the university's ability to conduct important research into Alzheimer's and other devastating neurological diseases" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/24).