Judge strikes down Indiana law barring discriminatory abortion

A federal judge ruled Indiana's abortion law unconstitutional Thursday in yet another blow to pro-life advocates this week. 

Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star/AP
Rachel Ferguson (c.) holds a sign in support of women's rights during an April rally in front of the Indiana State House in Indianapolis. On Thursday, a federal judge declared unconstitutional an Indiana law prohibiting abortions sought on the basis of race, sex, or suspected disabilities.

A federal judge suspended an Indiana law Thursday that would have prohibited abortions sought on the basis of race, sex, or suspected disabilities – one day before the law was set to go into effect.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted a preliminary injunction against House Enrolled Act 1337, referred to as the "Dignity of the Unborn" law by its proponents, at the request of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which was later joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The groups argued that such a law was an illegal limit on women's rights according to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, and thus unconstitutional. 

"To summarize, nothing in 'Roe,' [Casey v. Planned Parenthood], or any other subsequent Supreme Court decisions suggests that a woman's right to choose an abortion prior to viability can be restricted if exercised for a certain reason," Judge Pratt writes in her ruling. "The right to a pre-viability abortion is categorical." 

For the state to examine a woman’s reasons for having an abortion "is inconsistent with the notion of right rooted in privacy concerns and a liberty right to make independent decisions," Pratt added.

Indiana's HEA 1337 is one of many antiabortion laws passed at the state level in recent years. Texas's law, which, like Indiana's, sought to limit abortion accessibility through abortion clinics regulations, was struck down by the US Supreme Court on Monday. 

"The decision provides a vital clarification on how states can regulate abortion clinics, rejecting Texas's claims that the law is needed to protect women’s health – an increasingly common approach to antiabortion laws," the Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass reported earlier this week. Monday's decision was a blow to pro-life supporters, "suggesting that abortion rights advocates could now begin challenging other laws around the country."

Indiana and North Dakota are currently the only two states to pass laws prohibiting abortions under these circumstances.

In Indiana, the law's proponents are expected to appeal the decision.

"This ruling is an appalling human rights injustice and we urge the state to appeal," Mike Fitcher, president of Indiana Right to Life, said in a statement Thursday. "Today's decision is one small step in the legal process to uphold the Dignity for the Unborn law as the state protects the civil rights of unborn children." 

Proponents of the law say not only does it protect the rights of unborn children, but it also addresses sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination at the same time.

"These prohibitions come with a certain irony: The ACLU, for example, spends enormous resources fighting exactly the kind of discrimination these bills address, especially that which penalizes women, racial minorities, and people with disabilities," The Atlantic's Emma Green wrote in May. "But because United States law doesn't see fetuses as people, the organization doesn't see a need to protect them from discrimination."

Regardless of both sides' arguments, the law may be written too vaguely to enforce, say medical experts.

Unlike other countries, such as Britain, American women don't have to give their doctors a reason for the abortion. In other words, doctors would have no reason to know why a woman chose to abort, unless it came up in conversation. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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