Indiana Rule for Reporting Abortion Complications Debated at Seventh Circuit

The Hoosier State defended a controversial law requiring abortion complications to be reported, pushing back on claims that the statutory language is too vague.  

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(CN) — The Seventh Circuit heard arguments Tuesday in Indiana’s appeal of a ruling that found a state law requiring providers to report medical complications associated with abortions is unconstitutional.

The underling lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky in April 2018 and challenged a newly passed law that required abortion providers to report complications connected to any abortion procedures performed at their facilities. The law also contained a provision mandating annual inspections of abortion clinics.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young in Indianapolis ruled partially in favor of Planned Parenthood last year and found that the reporting requirement was unconstitutional because the term “complication” was too vague. He upheld the portion of the law dealing with inspections.

“The statute simply lacks any standard to guide physicians in determining whether a condition qualifies as an abortion complication for purposes of reporting. The indeterminacy of the statute’s requirements denies fair notice to physicians and invites arbitrary enforcement by prosecutors,” Young wrote in his 22-page ruling.

Indiana appealed the ruling to the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit. Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued for the state Tuesday, telling the three-judge panel that there is nothing vague about the reporting requirements and that the purpose is to gather data for safety reasons.

“This is about gathering information,” Fisher said. “Our argument is that there is another legitimate interest, which is safeguarding and advising women of information that would affect their health.”

The statute lists 26 abortion complications that require reporting, including incomplete abortions, renal failure, shock or mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. But Planned Parenthood’s complaint argued that complication “is defined so vaguely that it is impossible to determine what is or is not covered.”

Gavin Rose of the ACLU of Indiana argued on behalf of Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, echoing the arguments made in the lawsuit.

“The vagueness problem at issue in this case arises directly from the fact that many of the supposed complications listed in the statute have absolutely nothing to do with abortion,” Rose said.

In a brief filed with the court, the ACLU specifically challenged the vagueness of psychological issues surrounding an abortion procedure.

“Several examples suffice to demonstrate the term’s vagueness. If a woman is anxious prior to an abortion—as a patient might be anxious prior to any medical procedure—does that constitute a ‘psychological complication’ arising from the abortion that must be reported?” the brief states.

U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood, a Bill Clinton appointee, pressed Rose and said that while some of the listed complications seem to have little connection to abortion, others clearly do.

“The critical word you just uttered was many, as opposed to all,” Wood said.

While only briefly touching on the subject, Wood seemed open to severing portions of the law. She said two of the 26 listed complications in the law, failure to terminate pregnancy and incomplete abortion, did seem directly connected to abortion procedures. But she also said several of the listed complications did not seem to be connected to abortions.

U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, a Ronald Reagan appointee, asked Rose how Indiana’s abortion law was any different from workplace rules that require the reporting of accidents.

“This statute has to do with medical procedures. The Occupational Safety and Health Act has to do with workplace procedures. But the idea in both cases is to require reporting of bad outcomes,” Easterbrook said.

Rose responded by arguing the difference is the statute itself links various health issues to abortion, asserting again that the reporting requirement is too vague.

U.S. Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve, appointed by President Donald Trump, rounded out the panel. The judges did not say when they will issue a ruling in the case.

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