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Pence-Era Indiana Anti-Choice Law Dealt Major Legal Blow

Teddy Wilson

The head of Indiana Right to Life says the state should appeal the federal judge's decision so "it will be argued before a Supreme Court bench that includes Judge Brett Kavanaugh."

A federal court on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s decision to block an Indiana law requiring pregnant people to obtain an ultrasound and complete an 18-hour waiting period before receiving abortion services.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that the law constitutes an “undue burden,” and dealt the latest legal blow to Indiana Republicans’ legislative efforts to restrict access to abortion care.

Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in the ruling that while it is a legitimate goal for the state to attempt to dissuade pregnant people from having an abortion, the law seeks to accomplish that goal by creating a barrier to abortion “without any evidence that it serves the intended goal of persuading women to carry a pregnancy to term.”

“Rhetoric and persuasion are certainly legitimate methods for a state to assert its preference, but it cannot force compliance with its otherwise legitimate views by erecting barriers to abortion without evidence that those barriers serve the benefit the state intended,” Rovner wrote.

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Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, said in a statement that Indiana lawmakers continue to create “new and ever more demeaning ways” to restrict access to abortion care.

“The ruling affirms that deeply personal decisions about abortion should be made by women in consultation with their doctors, not politicians pursuing an extreme ideological agenda,” Henegar said.

The challenged law, HB 1337, requires a physician to perform an ultrasound on a pregnant person considering an abortion at least 18 hours prior to the procedure. It must be conducted in conjunction with state-mandated forced counseling.

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

The ACLU of Indiana and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) filed a lawsuit in July 2016 challenging the forced counseling and waiting period provisions of the law. U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in April 2017 granted a preliminary injunction of the law, and the district court’s ruling was subsequently appealed by the state.

Christie Gillespie, president and CEO of PPINK, during a Thursday press conference said the ruling was a “win for our patients,” and that the law would have a disproportionate effect on women in marginalized communities.

“There is absolutely no medical and no legal purpose for requiring an ultrasound to be 18 hours in advance of the procedure,” Gillespie said. “Placing those undue burdens … is absolutely impactful for woman who have to make these difficult decisions, and women particularly living in rural areas and women who happen to be low-income.”

Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, denounced the court’s decision and said in a statement that the Seventh Circuit is “playing politics” by blocking the law from taking effect. “We urge the Indiana attorney general to appeal this ruling and fervently hope it will be argued before a [U.S.] Supreme Court bench that includes Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Fichter said.

Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill, who has been embroiled in investigations relating to allegations of sexual misconduct, has not announced whether he will appeal the circuit court’s ruling. His office has not yet responded to a request for comment from Rewire.News.

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