August 12, 2021

Clinic CEO Says Abortion Case Victory Is 'A Win' For Indiana Women

Clinic CEO Says Abortion Case Victory Is 'A Win' For Indiana Women

Several major Indiana abortion laws were struck down in federal court on Tuesday. The case was brought by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, which operates an abortion clinic in South Bend.

The ruling from Judge Sarah Evans Barker strikes down the state’s ban on telemedicine abortion consultations, a law saying only doctors can provide medication abortions and a law saying second trimester abortions can only be performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers.

Barker also ruled against laws requiring that women seeking abortions be told that life begins at conception, fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and that people who give birth have faster mental health recovery than those who get abortions.

READ MORE: Indiana Officials Appealing Decision Against Abortion Laws

The case was brought by Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, a Virginia nonprofit that operates three abortion clinics — one in Virginia, one in Texas and one in South Bend, the only abortion clinic in Michiana.

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance decided to open their South Bend clinic after being approached by local activists in 2014. President and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said she’s very encouraged by the outcome.

She said the case is what’s called a comprehensive repeal using the legal standard from Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a 2016 Supreme Court case which challenged some Texas abortion restrictions.

“That basically says a state can’t restrict access to abortion unless those restrictions are supported by scientific evidence or medical facts,” Miller said. “I think Judge Barker’s ruling really outlines some of the harm that has been done by some of these laws that aren’t supported by evidence.”

In her ruling, Barker said those restrictions make it difficult — or nearly impossible — to access abortion through higher costs, less availability and excess travel and transportation burdens.

And, Barker writes, those restrictions place an extra burden on low-income Hoosiers. The majority of people seeking abortions in Indiana are low income, and nearly a quarter are likely to experience domestic violence.

But Barker also upheld several Indiana abortion laws and OK’d all the criminal penalties imposed on anyone who violates them.

Those laws include:

  • Only doctors can perform surgical abortions.
  • Only doctors or advanced practice clinicians can provide patients with the required informed consent before an abortion.
  • Doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital or an agreement with a physician who does
  • Ultrasounds are required to be given before abortions.
  • Hoosiers under 18 must get parental consent for an abortion.
  • Facility requirements for clinics that provide aspiration abortions, such as equipment sterilization, laundry and housekeeping.
  • Laws that govern how and when abortion clinics are inspected.
  • Provisions covering the dosage and administration of abortion-inducing drugs.

Still, Miller said the ruling will make safe abortion care more accessible to Hoosiers.

“Some folks may look at it as a mixed decision, but in a state like Indiana, the fact that we were able to strike down so many laws, we’re really seeing that as a win,” Miller said.

For example, she cited the end of the telemedicine ban for abortion consultation, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially as we see the Delta variant take hold in so many communities,” Miller said. “We want to be able to provide abortion care safely and be able to restrict people’s exposure to the pandemic by not having to come into the clinic unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

In a statement, Indiana Right to Life CEO Mike Fichter called the ruling “horrific,” saying it would lead to a “massive expansion of chemical and late term abortions in Indiana.”

“This is judicial activism at its absolute worst,” Fichter said.

Indiana is expected to appeal the decision to the 7th Circuit Court, and depending on the outcome of the case there, it could eventually end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Miller says that process could take years. But the Supreme Court could make a major change to abortion law next year. It is hearing a Mississippi abortion case this October, and advocates worry the court may use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade.

And with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett by former president Trump last year, the court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

“That president was able to appoint three justices to the supreme court, all of whom are remarkably conservative — including one, actually, from South Bend,” Miller said. “So, who knows what they’ll do.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has joined 23 other Republican-led states in filing an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling as well as the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which created the current undue burden standard for abortion restrictions.

But Miller said the “vast majority” of Americas support access to safe abortion in their communities.

“I think it’s important for us to remember that Roe v. Wade has been upheld for over 50 years, and there’s a ton of legal precedent that affirms access to safe abortion for people in the United States,” Miller said. “Access to safe abortion does make communities safer and does improve maternal mortality and health outcomes for everybody.”

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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