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Court Deals Blow to Pence-Era Indiana Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

The GOP-backed, anti-choice omnibus law "was, in effect, trying to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court," said Kenneth Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on Thursday affirmed a district court’s ruling striking down two provisions of an Indiana law that restricts access to abortion care and imposes burdensome regulations on abortion providers.

Officials from Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana on Friday praised the court’s decision during a joint press conference.

Kenneth Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said during the press conference that existing law makes it “crystal clear” that a pregnant person has an absolute right to determine whether to terminate a pregnancy.

“Indiana sought to invade that right,” Falk said. “The law was, in effect, trying to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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HB 1337 made numerous changes to state laws, including requiring forced counseling and mandatory ultrasounds for abortion patients, creating regulations on physicians who provide abortion care, and banning fetal tissue donation that has led to the development of vaccines and has had other public health benefits.

Physicians are prohibited from providing abortion care if the physician knows that the pregnant person is seeking the common medical procedure solely because of the “race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.”

The omnibus anti-choice bill was passed by wide margins by the GOP-dominated Indiana legislature. It was signed into law in March 2016 by former Gov. Mike Pence (R).

The ACLU of Indiana in April 2016 filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of PPINK, as well as two abortion providers. The lawsuit challenged the so-called final disposition and anti-discrimination provisions of the law. The plaintiffs claim the law imposes an undue burden on a person’s right to choose abortion care, that the the law violates due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and that it infringes upon the First Amendment right of free speech.

District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in September 2017 ruled that the law was unconstitutional, and the Seventh Circuit Court’s three-judge panel unanimously upheld Pratt’s decision.

Judge William Bauer wrote in the 40-page decision that anti-discrimination provisions “clearly violate well-established Supreme Court precedent” and the fetal tissue regulations “have no rational relationship to a legitimate state interest.”

Christie Gillespie, president and CEO of PPINK, said in a statement that there was “no medical basis for these restrictions,” and that the state was interfering in the relationship between patients and medical professionals.

“Every person deserves the right to make their own personal decisions about abortion,” Gillespie said.

Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill has not stated if the state will appeal the court’s decision. Falk said he would not be surprised if the state sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

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