Judge blocks Indiana abortion law

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana’s restrictive new abortion law from taking effect Friday.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued a 31-page order in favor of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which sought to block House Enrolled Act 1337.

The law signed by Gov. Mike Pence this year would have prohibited abortions because of genetic abnormality, race, sex or ancestry, and would mandate disposal of an aborted fetus only through burial or cremation. Before its passage, opponents warned the bill raised an unconstitutional burden to the right to abortion and that its enactment would be met with a federal lawsuit. The statute also mandated abortion providers inform patients of the anti-discrimination provisions and what they prohibited.

Pratt wrote Planned Parenthood "has clearly demonstrated that the anti-discrimination provisions and the information dissemination provision should be enjoined pending resolution of this litigation. It is likely to succeed on the merits of its challenges to these provisions as the anti-discrimination provisions directly contravene well-established law that precludes a state from prohibiting a woman from electing to have an abortion prior to fetal viability. Similarly, the information dissemination provision is likely unconstitutional as it requires abortion providers to convey false information regarding the anti-discrimination provisions to their patients. PPINK faces irreparable harm of a significantly greater magnitude if these provisions are not enjoined than that faced by the State.

“Second, PPINK has persuasively shown that the fetal tissue disposition provisions do not further a legitimate state interest and thus are likely unconstitutional. This, when combined with the fact that the balance of harms weighs slightly in PPINK’s favor, leads to the conclusion that PPINK is also entitled to an injunction with respect to these provisions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued on behalf of Planned Parenthood and successfully blocked the law that Pence signed on the deadline day for acting on this session’s legislation. “We're listening respectfully to both sides and giving careful consideration to this legislation,” he said before signing the bill that was opposed by, among others, a national group of gynecologists and several women in the Legislature’s dominant Republican caucus.  

When he signed the bill, Pence called it “a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.” Opponents countered the law forced women to carry unviable pregnancies to term and that the state had raised unreasonable barriers to the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion.

Pratt held Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed on the merits of its lawsuit because the challenged provisions “directly contravene the principle established in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) that a state may not prohibit a woman from making the ultimate decision to have an abortion prior to fetal viability.”

Pratt also cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down Texas abortion restrictions in a 5-3 decision. She wrote that the state was correct that a facial challenge to the statute required Planned Parenthood to establish that a law is unconstitutional in all of its applications. “As the Supreme Court very recently made clear, ‘the relevant denominator’ when applying this test is ‘those [women] for whom [the provision] is an actual rather than an irrelevant restriction,” citing Whole Women’s Health.

“The anti-discrimination provisions prevent any woman who seeks to have a pre-viability abortion solely for one of the enumerated reasons from obtaining one. This is an irrelevant restriction for women not seeking an abortion solely for one of the reasons. It is, however, relevant to women seeking an abortion for one of the enumerated reasons, and it is very likely unconstitutional as to all of these women,” Pratt wrote.

Reaction to the decision was swift.

“We are heartened that the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, are signaling that politicians can no longer hide behind sham rationales to prevent a woman from getting the care she needs. This legislation was never about discrimination. The ACLU stands firmly against discrimination in all forms,” said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director. “The ACLU challenged this legislation because it exerts undue political influence into one of the most personal decisions a woman can make, whether and when to continue a pregnancy based upon what is best for herself and her family, a decision protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

 “This cruel law painted a grim picture for Indiana women with its blatant, unwelcome intrusion into private, independent decision making. HEA 1337 is a violation of the sacred doctor and patient relationship,” said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of PPINK. “Today's decision shows Gov. Mike Pence that he cannot force his religious ideology on Hoosiers. It is further compelling recognition by the courts that legislation interfering with women's reproductive rights will not be tolerated.”

Indiana Right to Life, meanwhile, said it “predicted Pratt, who was appointed by President Obama, would block the Dignity for the Unborn law from taking effect. Pratt has a history of siding with the abortion lobby; Pratt blocked provisions of a 2011 Indiana law that denied taxpayer funds to abortion businesses and required that pregnant women be told about an unborn child’s ability to feel pain.”

“Today a federal judge denied the civil rights of unborn children, then proceeded to equate aborted children to common medical waste by blocking dignified disposal,” said Mike Fichter,pPresident and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. “This ruling is an appalling human rights injustice and we urge the state to appeal.”

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller did not say immediately whether the ruling would be appealed. “Now that Judge Pratt has entered a preliminary injunction, the State’s lawyers are reviewing the ruling and will confer with their clients and decide within the time allowed whether to appeal to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals or any options and strategies involving further proceedings in the trial court," according to a statement from his office.

“We urge citizens to respect the Court even if they disagree with the ruling. The ability of plaintiffs to bring challenges and question the constitutionality of the statutes is an important safeguard in our system of checks and balances. This case involves issues that have been divisive among many; but the State’s lawyers had a duty to present a defense and answer the Court’s questions, and we appreciate the Court’s issuing a ruling promptly and thus providing clarity to medical professionals and the public,” Zoeller said.

“Abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood turn to activist judges anytime they believe their lucrative businesses are threatened. It is no surprise that a judge appointed by Obama with a history of ruling against pro-life measures would block the Dignity for the Unborn law,” Fichter said. “Today’s decision is one small step in the legal process to uphold the Dignity for the Unborn law as the state protects the civil rights of unborn children.”

Indiana House Democratic Floor Leader Linda Lawson of Hammond urged the state not to appeal the decision.

“HEA 1337 is a horrible law, and it deserves to be tossed into the trash,” Lawson said. “The legislation was conceived hastily, and passed without any consideration for its impact on women across Indiana, which would be immense.

“In a just world, this ruling would put an end to the debate, but I fear more tax dollars will be spent on court actions that do nothing but placate a few who cannot help but insert themselves into the lives of others on decisions that should be kept personal and private.”

The court’s ruling striking down the law will add to the cost of litigation on constitutional grounds that has skyrocketed under Pence.


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