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Indiana abortion law challenged on religious grounds    

The plaintiffs represent different religious backgrounds and claim that the near-total abortion ban interferes with their religious rights.

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — The ACLU of Indiana filed a class action lawsuit Thursday that challenges Indiana’s new abortion law by claiming the restrictions violate religious freedoms.

The lawsuit was filed in Marion County and argues that the law known as SEA 1 violates Hoosiers' rights under the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act by denying them access to abortions that would be permitted under their faith.

 SEA 1 will take effect on Sept. 15 and bans all abortions except in the cases of rape or incest, in situations where the mother’s physical health is in danger and in cases of lethal fetal anomalies.

The law criminalizes abortions that do not fall under one of the exceptions and physicians who perform an illegal abortion could face a fine of up to $10,000 and one to six years imprisonment.

Five anonymous women are listed as plaintiffs on the case alongside the organization known as Hoosier Jews for Choice. The lawsuit claims that the Indiana RFRA law protects their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding abortion access.

“Indiana’s RFRA law protects religious freedom for all Hoosiers, not just those who practice Christianity,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana Legal Director. “The ban on abortion will substantially burden the exercise of religion by many Hoosiers who, under the new law, would be prevented from obtaining abortions, in conflict with their sincere religious beliefs.” 

According to the lawsuit, three of the five plaintiffs are Jewish women who believe that SEA 1 restricts abortion procedures in a manner that goes against their faith.

Specifically, they claim that their religious beliefs instruct them that a fetus is not a life, and that one of the women holds the Jewish belief that life begins when a child is born and takes its first breath.

During the legislative process for SEA 1, Senior Rabbi of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation Brett Krichiver testified against the law.

“Jewish beliefs about when life begins are varied, and yet consistent in the view that a fetus is a part of a pregnant woman and not an independent human being, which is found in the Bible. Under Jewish law, abortion is not only permissible in certain instances, but it is required, if necessary to protect the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman,” Krichiver said.

The lawsuit describes in detail the health situation of one of the plaintiffs and argues that there are instances where an abortion would be banned under SEA 1, but would be permitted by her Jewish faith.

“There are many scenarios under which Anon. 1’s physical or mental health would be at risk, such that her religious beliefs would indicate that she should terminate a pregnancy, but where such a termination would not be permitted by the statute,” the lawsuit states.

Another one of the plaintiffs, ascribes to a spiritual belief that prior to the viability of a fetus, it is part of the body of a mother.

“Central to her religious beliefs is that she maintains spiritual and physical autonomy over her own body, including a fetus, and it is her spiritual obligation to determine whether to remain pregnant,” the lawsuit states. “She believes that if a pregnancy or the birth of another child would not allow her to fully realize her humanity and inherent dignity, she should terminate that pregnancy. This is so in circumstances which would not be permitted under S.E.A. 1.”

The ACLU’s class action lawsuit also expresses that other faiths found within Indiana have pro-abortion stances such as The Episcopal Church and Unitarian Universalists.

In reaction to the Supreme Court overturning the precedent Roe v. Wade, both faiths were outspoken in their disapproval of the high court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion access.

Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, the president of the Unitarian Universalists Association issued a statement in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“This anti-choice decision by the Supreme Court infringes on our deeply held religious beliefs. Access to abortion and the right to choose is an issue of gender equality, bodily autonomy, and religious liberty, all of which are long held Unitarian Universalist religious teachings,” Frederick-Gray said.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church echoed a similar sentiment in his reaction to overturning of Roe.

“We as a church have tried carefully to be responsive both to the moral value of women having the right to determine their healthcare choices as well as the moral value of all life. Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not,” Curry said.

This is not the only pending challenge to SEA 1 filed by the ACLU. On Aug. 30, the civil rights group alongside Planned Parenthood filed a separate lawsuit that challenges the law on grounds that the it is unworkable and that it makes abortions difficult for patients to obtain even if they meet the requirements of one of the exceptions.

In addition, that suit claims that the law unfairly eliminates abortion clinics in Indiana, where most almost all abortions take place, and instead requires the procedures to be performed in hospitals.

Both lawsuits seek to prevent not only the abortion restrictions from going into effect, but also judgments that declare SEA 1 unlawful. However, its unclear if the courts will rule in either case before Sept. 15, when the law is slated to go into effect.

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