‘Disputed facts’ prevent federal judge from overturning contested abortion restrictions

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Conflicting opinions from medical experts has stopped a federal judge from issuing a final summary judgment in a challenge to the Indiana statute that requires non-surgical abortion clinics to have the same equipment and adhere to the same requirements as a surgical facility.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson for the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana issued an order Dec. 3 on cross-motions for summary judgment in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc., v. Commissioner, Indiana State Department of Health and Tippecanoe County Prosecutor, 1:13-cv-01335.

Magnus-Stinson granted Planned Parenthood’s request for summary judgment that the Indiana in question law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. But she denied the agency’s request for summary judgment on its 14th Amendment claim that the statute violates a patient’s right to choose an abortion and on its substantive due process claim.

The judge also denied Indiana’s motion for summary judgment. She did not issue a final judgment at this time.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller called Magnus-Stinson’s order a “complicated ruling” and pointed out he could not appeal because a final judgment has not been issued.

“We respect the court’s ruling and also respect the authority of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature to make policy regarding physical plant requirements for nonsurgical abortion clinics,” Zoeller said in a statement. “As there is no final ruling yet, we will consult with our clients on additional legal proceedings in the defense of this Indiana statute and explore other options.”
The state statute has not been enforced. In November 2013, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction against it.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, represented in part by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, filed a complaint in federal court against the 2013 Indiana law which mandates that clinics providing drugs for medication-induced abortions must meet the same requirements as clinics providing surgical abortions.

The agency, which offers drug-induced abortions only at its Lafayette facility, said in the lawsuit that it would be a significant and unnecessary expense to renovate the clinic space to add such things as procedure and recovery rooms that would not be used.

Planned Parenthood claimed Indiana Code 16-18-2-1.5(a)(2) and 16-21-2-2.5(b) violated the substantive due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. The nonprofit health care provider also argued the statutes are an unreasonable regulation of medicine in violation of women’s right to privacy as protected by the 14th Amendment.

Magnus-Stinson found I.C. 16-18-2-1.5(a)(2) violates the Equal Protection Clause.

"It allows the state to arbitrarily divide medication abortion providers into two groups – ‘abortion clinics’ and undefined ‘physician’s offices’ – and treat those groups differently, without a rational basis for doing so, by requiring ‘abortion clinics’ and not ‘physician offices’ to meet the physical plant requirements at issue,” she wrote. “The consequence is that the Lafayette (clinic) must either comply with certain physical plant requirements that previously only applied to surgical abortion providers, or stop providing medication abortions. No ‘physician’s office’ faces the same choice.”

However, Magnus-Stinson also ruled that disputed issues of material fact prevented her from ordering a summary judgment in either party’s favor on Planned Parenthood’s 14th Amendment claim based on its patients’ right to choose an abortion.

The state and Planned Parenthood each presented expert evidence about the safety of medication abortions, the prevalence and treatment for medical complications and the requirements of care.

“These disputed issues of material fact are central to a determination of the Fourteenth Amendment undue burden analysis and directly bear on the reasonableness of the physical plant requirements that (Planned Parenthood) challenges,” Magnus-Stinson wrote. “Accordingly, the Court cannot grant summary judgment to either party….”

Magnus-Stinson’s order states she will schedule a status conference with the parties to discuss the effect of the summary judgment order on Planned Parenthood’s remaining pending claims and the necessity of a trial currently scheduled for June 2015.

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