A federal appeals court has cleared the way for Indiana officials to start enforcing a law requiring reports from doctors if they treat women for complications arising from abortions, even though the court said the law could be struck down in the future.
Action by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals this week followed a 2-1 ruling by a court panel in August upholding the law, which had been blocked by a judge shortly after it was approved by the Republican-dominated Indiana Legislature in 2018.
The law lists 25 physical or psychological conditions — including unsuccessful abortions, infections, uterine perforations, depression and deaths — that could trigger the reporting requirement for doctors or clinics. It makes failure to do so a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Planned Parenthood challenged the law in federal court, arguing that it was vague and would leave medical professionals uncertain in determining whether they needed to report conditions such as a patient’s anxiety or minor bleeding regardless of whether they believed it stemmed from the abortion.
The Chicago-based appeals court last week turned down Planned Parenthood’s request for the full court to reconsider the case, and it issued an order Thursday allowing the law to go into effect.
The appeals court’s August decision found that the Indiana law didn’t directly inhibit a woman’s right to an abortion but recommended that the Indiana Department of Health use a “reasonable medical judgment standard” in enforcing the reporting requirements.
“It is certainly possible that Indiana may enforce this law in an arbitrary manner that offends due process, particularly in a highly controversial area like the regulation of abortion,” the majority opinion said.
Planned Parenthood, which operates abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville, Bloomington and Lafayette, is considering its options for continuing to challenge the law, said Hannah Brass Greer, a lawyer for its Indiana affiliate.
“These restrictions have a disproportionate impact on those like people of color, people who live in rural areas, young people, or those with low incomes, who already face far too many barriers to health care,” she said in a statement. “Laws like this make abortion a right in name only to the most vulnerable.”
The anti-abortion group Indiana Right to Life called the reporting requirement “long overdue.”
“It is extremely telling that abortion businesses fought to shield these complications from being reported,” Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said. “Full compliance with the complications reporting law must be one of the many areas subject to thorough state inspections of every licensed abortion business.”
Debates on additional abortion restrictions are expected during the new Indiana legislative session that starts in January, with Republican lawmakers looking to copy a Texas law that prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks, and puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens.
Indiana’s Legislature has adopted numerous abortion restrictions over the past decade, with several later blocked by court challenges.
A judge in 2019 blocked the state’s ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure that the legislation called “dismemberment abortion.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 also rejected Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked a ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. However, it upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.