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Indiana University files lawsuit against state antiabortion-rights law

Indiana University (IU) on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against a state antiabortion-rights law (HEA 1337) that the university says will compromise its research efforts, the Indianapolis Star reports (Guerra, Indianapolis Star, 5/25).

Law details

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.

Judge rejects motion to join PPINK lawsuit

In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed suit 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. 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 filed a motion to join PPINK's lawsuit. According to IU officials, the law's fetal tissue restrictions could subject researchers at the university to criminal charges. However, 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/25).

Latest developments

The IU Board of Trustees and three of the school's research officials filed a federal complaint challenging the law, the AP/Kokomo Tribune reports. The complaint asks for the law to be declared unconstitutional and for an injunction halting the Marion County prosecutor from enforcing it.

The complaint states that the lawsuit 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 (SNRI) (AP/Kokomo Tribune, 5/26). According to the complaint, the law "will institute sweeping and unconstitutional prohibitions," including having a "dramatic" and "catastrophic" effect on SNRI's research (Indianapolis Star, 5/25).

Lahiri's research on Alzheimer's disease involves cell cultures from fetal tissue samples from the Birth Defects Research Laboratory at the University of Washington. In addition, SNRI possesses DNA, RNA, proteins and other biological materials that could have come from fetal tissue, according to the lawsuit.

Further, a grant Lahiri received through NIH requires him to hold on to research samples and provide them when requested by NIH or other institutions (AP/Kokomo Tribune, 5/26). If Lahiri is prohibited from sharing those samples, his eligibility for federal funding would be substantially limited and the university could be required to repay several million dollars of current federal funding for research. Moreover, if Lahiri were to suspend his work, he could still be at risk under the law if he tried to move his materials to a new institution.

According to the university, the law also could dissuade other researchers from working with IU (Indianapolis Star, 5/25).