Barker rejects request to keep closed South Bend abortion clinic pending appeal

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Despite the Indiana Attorney General’s efforts, a federal judge has denied a request to stay the opening of what could become the state’s newest abortion clinic. 

Indiana Southern District Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker on Friday rejected Attorney General Curtis Hill’s request to keep closed the doors of a South Bend abortion clinic until the state’s appeal of the matter can be considered. That denial comes one week after Barker granted a preliminary injunction for the facility to move forward without a state-required license, pending a final ruling in the case in 2020.

Barker gave the go-ahead last month for Texas-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s to open the doors of its South Bend abortion clinic following a lengthy legal battle between WWHA and the state. In response, Indiana filed an appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as a request to stay the clinic’s opening before its appeal could be heard.

But the federal judge said in her Friday ruling that she issued the injunction “on the prospect that the South Bend Clinic could and will be regulated by the state, in light of the history of abortion regulation in Indiana and of the existing statutory and regulatory framework.”

“Moreover, every single day, Indiana permits licensed physicians ‘to dispense powerful hormone-curbing, abortion-inducing, uterus-contracting prescription drugs’ in unlicensed facilities — so long as those drugs are dispensed to women not seeking abortions,” Barker wrote in her denial.

Hill’s office responded by filing a motion to stay in the 7th Circuit on Monday, arguing Barker’s ruling “turns the right to abortion into a cudgel against state licensing laws that the Supreme Court long-ago declared to be perfectly valid.”

“The district court has declared that something as ordinary and fundamental as state licensing – which the state does for everything from nursing homes to daycares – can be invalidated in the name of the right to abortion,” Hill said in a statement. 

The state further argued the risk of harm to women by allowing unlicensed clinics to offer chemical abortions “outweighs any speculative burdens faced by Whole Woman’s Health” or women who must travel in order to receive abortion services. 

WWHA began encountering roadblocks to opening the South Bend clinic after its initial application for a state license was rejected by the Indiana State Department of Health. State officials claimed the provider did not meet requirements of having “reputable and responsible character,” and failed to disclose necessary information.

While a second application attempt was met with lengthy setbacks and requests from the health department, WWHA sued the state, arguing its sweeping statutory and regulatory restrictions on providing and obtaining abortions were unconstitutional.

A WWHA spokesperson said the clinic is planned to open in “the coming weeks.” It would become the state’s seventh abortion clinic, next to operating locations in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Lafayette and Merrillville.  

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