Indiana’s Abortion Ultrasound Rule Blocked

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – A federal judge in Indiana granted a preliminary injunction to Planned Parenthood, temporarily blocking a state law forcing women to have an ultrasound at least 18 hours before having an abortion.

Planned Parenthood sued the commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health as well as several county prosecutors last year, specifically targeting the ultrasound mandate in its complaint.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or PPINK, challenged a provision of Indiana House Enrolled Act No. 1337, which went into effect in July 2016.

Prior to the law’s enactment, women could have an ultrasound done the same day as an abortion. The provision at issue altered that same-day capability, forcing women to have the ultrasound at least 18 hours prior to an abortion while also receiving state-required informed consent information about pregnancy and abortion.

With HEA 1337, Indiana lawmakers created several new provisions regulating abortions in the state, but Friday’s ruling addresses only the ultrasound mandate. PPINK challenges the 18-hour timing requirement of the law, but not its basic tenants, which require a pregnant woman to view a fetal ultrasound image and listen to a fetal heart beat, unless she elects not to do so in writing.

The new ultrasound mandate, combined with these two previously existing requirements, places an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and is therefore unconstitutional, according to the group’s lawsuit.

PPINK claims the provision targets low-income women in small towns that don’t offer abortion services. It operated 23 health centers in Indiana, but due to financial strain expects that number to drop to 17 centers across the state in coming months.

Only four of those 17 centers offer abortion services, the group says, and the only providers of non-medically indicated abortion services in the state that are not affiliated with PPINK are located in Indianapolis, forcing women from rural areas to travel there to get an abortion.

“Before the new ultrasound law, PPINK provided the state-mandated information to its patients at least 18 hours prior to the abortion during an informed-consent appointment, which [was] offered at any of PPINK’s 17 health centers across the state,” according to the ruling issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Tonya Walton Pratt. “This allowed women who lived a long distance from one of the four health centers that offer abortion services to make only one lengthy trip in order to obtain an abortion.”

Since ultrasounds must now take place during the informed-consent appointment, women seeking abortion services through PPINK are now unduly burdened as ultrasounds are only available at four of its health centers, the group claims. Any woman living a significant distance from one of those centers must either make two lengthy trips on separate days or pay for an overnight stay nearby.

According to court records, PPINK even attempted to provide access by offering ultrasound services at two of its health centers that do not offer abortion services. Although the effort helped its patients somewhat, their constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies was still compromised, the group says.

On Monday, Judge Pratt issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Indiana from enforcing the ultrasound waiting period.

“Like the state’s position with regards to PPINK’s pre-existing policies, its contention that PPINK could make different business decisions to mitigate the burdens caused by the new ultrasound law is unpersuasive,” she wrote. “The state has again failed to point to a case in which a court has discounted burdens imposed by a new ultrasound regulation because the abortion provider could have made better or different financial choices.”

Pratt also found that “there is little to no concrete evidence” to support the state’s argument that informed-consent waiting periods decrease the likelihood that a woman will go through with an abortion they already decided to have.

“It is simply not a reasonable assumption, given the absence of specific evidence on the question, that further time to deliberate on an [ultrasound] image that has nearly no impact at the time, would create a meaningfully stronger impact after 18 hours,” the judge wrote.

The injunction is temporary and applies only while the case is in litigation.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said that while he does not agree with the court’s decision, “My office is considering our next steps in the litigation.”

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