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IU challenges part of new abortion restrictions law

May 26, 2016

The Indiana University board of trustees and three of the school's research officials filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block part of the state's new abortion law that bars them from acquiring fetal tissue for scientific purposes.

Their complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis seeks to have that section of the law declared unconstitutional and an injunction barring the Marion County prosecutor from enforcing it. The research is conducted at the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute in Indianapolis.

Current Indiana law allows the purchase or sale of a fetus for adult or fetal stem cell research, but the new law passed this year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Mike Pence makes it a felony to buy, sell or transfer the tissue, organs or any other part of an aborted fetus, the lawsuit said.

The IU lawsuit claims the new law, due to take effect July 1, is unconstitutionally vague, impedes interstate commerce and violates plaintiff Debomoy Lahiri's First Amendment right to academic freedom.

Lahiri, a professor of psychiatry and an investigator for the Stark Institute, is conducting research into Alzheimer's disease on cell cultures derived from fetal tissue acquired from the Birth Defects Research Laboratory at the University of Washington, the lawsuit said. The laboratory acquires the fetal tissue from both elective abortions and miscarriages, the lawsuit said.

Lahiri's research is funded by the National Institutes for Health, which requires him to retain research samples and he must share them on request from the NIH or other institutions, the lawsuit said.

The Stark Institute also has RNA, DNA, proteins and other biological material that may have come from fetal tissue, the lawsuit said.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Bruce Lamb, the executive director of the Stark Institute, and Fred Cate, IU's vice president for research.

The Indiana Attorney General's Office, which represents prosecutors, is reviewing IU's lawsuit, spokeswoman Molly Gillaspie said.

A federal judge invited the university to file its own lawsuit over the law Tuesday when she denied its bid to join an existing lawsuit against the law brought by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. The Planned Parenthood lawsuit contends the new law, which also mandates that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated, is unconstitutional and violates privacy rights.

The new law also would ban abortions sought because of genetic abnormalities. North Dakota is the only other state with such a ban.

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