INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge blocked an Indiana law that would ban a second-trimester abortion procedure on Friday, just days before the law was set to come into force.
The order putting the Indiana law on hold was released hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to revive a similar law in Alabama that sought to ban dilation and evacuation abortions.
The law passed by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature this spring calls the procedure “dismemberment abortion.” It was set to become effective on July 1.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued on behalf of two doctors who perform dilation and evacuation abortions. Under the law, a doctor who performs the procedure could face a felony charge, punishable by up to six years in prison.
Indiana’s attorneys called the procedure “brutal and inhumane,” and maintained the state had a valid role in limiting types of abortion procedures, citing the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a federal law banning the method its opponents call partial-birth abortion.
ACLU attorneys argued that the ban would put a “substantial and unwarranted burden on women’s ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability abortions.”
U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, who was nominated as a judge by President Ronald Reagan, granted the preliminary injunction blocking the law. Her decision comes just weeks after she allowed an abortion clinic to open in South Bend. The Indiana State Department of Health had denied the operator a clinic license, saying it had not provided requested safety documentation.
During a hearing this month, Barker questioned why the state would force women seeking a second-trimester abortion to undergo “highly risky” alternative procedures, such as prematurely inducing labor or injecting fatal drugs into the fetus.
Federal courts have blocked similar laws in several states, including Kentucky and Ohio this spring, but Indiana abortion opponents were hopeful an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court could eventually uphold such bans.
The Indiana measure signed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb would make it illegal for doctors to use medical instruments such as clamps, forceps and scissors to remove a fetus from the womb except to save the pregnant woman’s life or prevent serious health risk.
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas said legislators wanted the ban “because they think the procedure is unethical.”
Indiana lawmakers didn’t go as far as those in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, where bills were enacted barring abortion once there’s a detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri’s governor signed a bill approving an eight-week ban on abortion, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. Alabama outlawed virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. Those bans haven’t taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May rejected Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the state’s ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. The court, however, upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.
The dilation and evacuation procedure accounted for 27, or 0.35 percent, of the 7,778 abortions performed in Indiana during 2017, according to an Indiana State Department of Health report.
“We applaud the court’s decision to block HEA 1211, another unconstitutional attack on safe and legal abortion care in Indiana,” said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of PPINK. “When state legislators continue to pass unconstitutional legislation against safe and legal abortion, we will continue to challenge them in the courts. Hoosiers can continue to get the care they need without being forced to travel out of state. We are thankful that the ACLU of Indiana stood up for patients across the state by challenging this backwards law. It’s beyond time for politicians to stop trying to insert themselves into the exam room, Hoosiers need their elected leaders to focus on improving, rather than restricting, access to reproductive health care, now and in the future.”
(This story was originally published on June 28, 2019)