SB 371, signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence in May 2013, changed the definition of “abortion clinic” to include those facilities that provide only mifepristone even if they do not offer surgical abortions. The change in definition applied only to the Lafayette, Indiana, Planned Parenthood center and not to the offices of private physicians who offer the same reproductive health-care services.
Planned Parenthood operates the only abortion clinic in Lafayette.
In August 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Indiana, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) against the Indiana State Department of Health and the Tippecanoe County prosecutor, challenging the surgical center requirement and arguing that it unconstitutionally singled out the Lafayette clinic for regulation.
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In November, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson agreed and issued a preliminary injection, preventing the law from taking effect January 1, 2014, as scheduled, and set the matter for a June 2015 trial.
But Magnus-Stinson on Wednesday ruled the law allows the state to arbitrarily divide medication abortion providers into two groups, “abortion clinics” and “physician’s offices,” and to treat those groups differently without a rational basis for doing so, by requiring only “abortion clinics” and not “physician’s offices” meet the surgical center requirements at issue.
“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,” wrote the court. “No ‘physician’s office’ faces the same choice.”
“This ruling comes on the heels of court victories for women in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. The courts are recognizing that these laws hurt women by restricting access to safe abortion,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement following the decision. “Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for our patients, because a woman’s right to make personal medical decisions should not depend on where she lives.”
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood had also challenged the regulation as an undue burden on their patients’ right to choose abortion because it would force the only clinic in Lafayette to close.
Attorneys for the state argued that requiring the Lafayette clinic to comply with physical plant requirements even though it does not perform surgical abortions did not have the purpose of putting a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion, but rather served as a guarantee of superior patient care. In support of this claim, Indiana relied on Dr. John Thorp Jr., a frequent expert in anti-abortion litigation and proponent of targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) laws designed to close abortion clinics.
Thorp claimed in an affidavit to the court that the dangers associated with medication abortions justify regulations that force all abortion clinics to operate as surgical facilities.
Thorp also claimed hospital requirements like those in effect in Texas, designed to mandate abortion providers have admitting privileges at area hospitals or face felony charges, are a necessary component of safe abortion care.
The vast majority of medical professionals, including those experts offered by attorneys for Planned Parenthood, disagree with Thorp.
Wednesday’s order avoids ruling on the legal issue of whether Indiana’s restriction unduly burdened patients’ rights to choose an abortion. Magnus-Stinson requested the parties and the court hold a status conference to determine whether the scheduled June trial is still necessary in light of Wednesday’s ruling, and if not, what the scope of a permanent injunction against the law should be.
That means that while Wednesday’s order declares the law unconstitutional on the basis that it unlawfully singles out abortion clinics for different and unnecessary regulation, it leaves open the possibility of a ruling that the law does not unduly burden a patient’s right to choose an abortion should attorneys for the state decide to press on with their defense of the law despite Wednesday’s order.