ACLU Fights Indiana Ban on Abortion Procedure

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Abortion providers represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging the Hoosier State’s new law banning a procedure that is the most common method of second-trimester abortions.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Caitlin Bernard and Katherine McHugh, both physicians providing second-trimester abortions, claim in the lawsuit filed in Indianapolis federal court that that House Enrolled Act 1211 heightens the risk to healthy women seeking abortions by making it illegal for doctors to perform a dilation and evacuation procedure unless the mother’s health is at risk or the fetus is no longer viable. 

During a D&E procedure, doctors dilate a woman’s cervix and use instruments such as forceps to grasp and evacuate the fetal tissue. The procedure, which is used beginning at 15 weeks of pregnancy, is the most common method of second-trimester abortions and is considered the safest.

“HEA 1211 will discourage women from obtaining abortions and will impose a substantial and unwarranted burden on women’s ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability, abortions,” Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “In addition, doctors have an ethical obligation not to subject their patients to potentially harmful procedures that provide no medical benefit. This law would force doctors to do just that.”

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, a Republican, signed the bill into law on Tuesday.

The legal challenge by the ACLU was expected. The new Indiana law is similar to laws in other states, including Ohio Senate Bill 145, which the Sixth Circuit recently blocked from taking effect by enjoining the prosecution of medical professionals who perform D&E procedures. 

Thursday’s complaint says HEA 1211 “causes an undue burden on the right of women to obtain pre-viability abortions and is an unwarranted invasion of their bodily integrity.”

Along with bills outlawing D&E procedures, Republican lawmakers across the country have passed other measures that critics say effectively make abortion illegal.

On April 10, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 23, which makes abortions of any type illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Ohio’s new law is among the most restrictive abortion measures in the nation. It bans abortion as early as six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant, and makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The ACLU of Ohio announced almost immediately that it plans to challenge the fetal-heartbeat law, though a lawsuit has not yet been filed.  

Heartbeat bills have also been passed in Mississippi,Kentucky, Iowa and North Dakota. Another in Georgia awaits the governor’s signature. The Iowa and North Dakota laws were blocked by courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing the case challenging North Dakota’s law.

Supporters of the Ohio heartbeat law welcome the anticipated legal challenge from the ACLU. They want the case to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“The heartbeat bill is the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement.

Freda Levenson, legal director at the ACLU of Ohio, said in a statement that the heartbeat law “is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight to the bitter end to ensure that this bill is permanently blocked.”

The Ohio law authorizes the use of transvaginal ultrasounds to detect fetal heartbeats. It also adds criminal penalties to doctors or other professionals who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected or who fail to do either an abdominal or trans-vaginal ultrasound before performing an abortion. 

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