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Judge Blocks Indiana Parental-Consent Abortion Law

A federal judge in Indiana issued a preliminary injunction against a new state law that would allow judges to alert the parents of minors seeking an abortion, even if the minor has been deemed mature enough by a court to make her own choice.

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - A federal judge in Indiana issued a preliminary injunction against a new state law that would allow judges to alert the parents of minors seeking an abortion, even if the minor has been deemed mature enough by a court to make her own choice.

Under current Indiana law, minors are required to obtain parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

However, they can petition a judge for a “judicial bypass,” which can deem the minor mature enough make the decision or that it is in the minor’s best interests.

The law at issue, Senate Enrolled Act 404, was signed by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on April 25, and specifically allows a judge to alert the parents of an unemancipated minor seeking an abortion, even if the minor has sought and been granted a waiver to obtain an abortion without parental consent.

The Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union – on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or PPINK – filed a federal lawsuit in May to prevent SEA 404 from going into effect July 1, claiming it violates due process and First Amendment Rights.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted the ACLU and PPINK a preliminary injunction preventing Hoosier State officials from enforcing the law’s parental-notification provision.

“Given that PPINK has shown a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of its claims that the challenged provisions of SEA 404 place an undue burden on a mature minor’s ability to obtain an abortion, impose unconstitutionally vague standards on physicians, and unlawfully burden speech, we hold that the balancing of harms and the public interest favor the issuance of a preliminary injunction,” Barker wrote in a 51-page ruling.

The judge added, “The mature minor as the individual who bears the full consequences of the ultimate decision is entitled to an opportunity to proceed without state-mandated interference from her parents. Because SEA 404 offers no such opportunity, it places an unjustifiable burden on mature minors in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The ACLU also challenged SEA 404’s “consent procedures” that require a physician to obtain identification from the minor and parent in order to prove the relationship.

Judge Barker said that the statute “leaves unspecified the parameters for compliance” and gives state officials unfettered discretion to decide whether the law has been violated on a case-by-case basis.

“Given the highly controversial and often politicized nature of abortion rights, the danger that locally-elected prosecutors and other enforcement officials could use the imprecision and malleability of the standard to further their own views and agendas is especially problematic,” according to Judge Barker’s ruling.

Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, praised the ruling in a statement.

"This decision affirms that the state must continue to provide a safe alternative for young women who - whatever their circumstances - are unable to talk to their parents about this difficult and personal decision," Falk said. "Instead of protecting women and families, these heavy-handed restrictions would have burdened young women's constitutional rights and put their health and safety at risk."

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s office did not respond to an email request for comment sent Thursday.

The ruling comes on the heels of other recent victories for abortion-rights activists.

The Ninth Circuit on Tuesday upheld a San Francisco law prohibiting anti-abortion centers from misleading pregnant women into believing that the centers provide abortions.

Last week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a federal lawsuit to end anti-abortion protesters’ campaign of threatening, groping and harassing patients and staff at a Queens women’s clinic.

And last month, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction halting enforcement of a new law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.

However, in Texas, state lawmakers have approved an onslaught of anti-abortion bills. Those measures have prompted protests from activists clad in red robes and white bonnets, dressed as characters from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which depicts a totalitarian theocracy where women are held as reproductive slaves with no control over their own bodies.

ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said Wednesday’s ruling “is a victory for women and another rebuke of politicians who insist on putting their own agenda ahead of women's health and safety.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Law, Regional

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