SCOTUS denies cert petition against South Bend abortion clinic

U.S. Supreme Court justices rejected a third Indiana abortion case on Thursday, refusing to hear a petition filed against an embattled South Bend abortion clinic that was permitted by a federal judge to open last summer.

The nation’s highest court denied Indiana’s certiorari petition in a Thursday order. 

In June 2019, Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted Texas-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s motion for a preliminary injunction, allowing the organization to open the northern Indiana abortion clinic without a state-required license following a lengthy legal battle with the Indiana Department of Health.

WWHA, who had struggled to get its license from the Health Department for years, was ultimately permitted to offer services to the surrounding communities after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Barker’s ruling. However, the 7th Circuit narrowed the injunction to allow the clinic to open under a provisional license.

In an effort to combat that decision, the defendants – including Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, Department of Health commissioner Kristina Box, St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter and Indiana Medical Licensing Board President John Strobel – filed a  cert petition asking the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling permitting the clinic to open.

In their petition, the state defendants presented two questions:

  • May a corporation that has been denied a state license to open an abortion clinic assert 14th Amendment rights of hypothetical patients as the basis for challenging the licensing requirement and the license denial?; and
  • May a federal court order a state agency to issue an abortion clinic license as a remedy for an “as applied” undue burden challenge to state implementation of its licensing laws?

“We are disappointed in the decision, but we remain confident that our defense of Indiana’s abortion clinic licensing laws, including with respect to Whole Women’s Health, will ultimately prevail back in the district court,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher said in a statement.

WWHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.

Also on Thursday, the federal justices remanded to the 7th Circuit two other Indiana abortion disputes, one involving an ultrasound requirement and the other involving parental notification for mature minors. The circuit court must review its rulings, which struck down both of those laws, under SCOTUS’ recent decision in June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo, 591 U. S. ___ (2020).

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