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Indiana's near-total abortion ban temporarily halted by local judge

The entrance to the Charlotte T. Zietlow Justice Center in Bloomington, Indiana. The light-colored stone building has steps leading up from street level to two arches, through which is the entrance to the building. Between the two arches, the name of the building is carved in the stone, along with its address (301 N. College Ave.). There is a flagpole at left, with the American flag above the Indiana flag.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
The Charlotte T. Zietlow Justice Center in Bloomington was the site of a hearing in a lawsuit challenging Indiana's near-total abortion ban on Sept. 19, 2022. The judge in that case temporarily halted enforcement of the ban.

Indiana’s near-total abortion ban has been temporarily halted.

Just three days after a judge heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the ban, she ruled that the law likely violates the Indiana Constitution.

Article 1, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution says that all people have a right to liberty. Judge Kelsey Hanlon said Indiana courts have recognized before that a right to bodily autonomy is part of that.

And her ruling said Indiana’s near-total abortion ban goes too far in restricting that right “by making that autonomy largely contingent upon first experiencing extreme sexual violence or significant loss of physical health or death.”

Hanlon’s decision also said the law’s ban on clinics performing abortions – restricting the procedure only to hospitals and certain surgical centers – will limit availability, increase costs and “is unlikely to increase the safety of Hoosier women and girls.”

The ruling means that, for now, abortion is legal for anyone up to 20 weeks, without needing to provide a reason. Other pre-existing regulations are also in effect, including provisions that require two separate trips to an abortion care provider, an ultrasound, informed consent and parental consent for those under age 18.

In a statement, Attorney General Todd Rokita pledged to appeal the decision.

"Our office remains determined to fight for the lives of the unborn, and this law provides a reasonable way to begin doing that," Rokita said.

However, the state will likely ask for the ruling's impact to be halted while the appeal is ongoing, meaning the abortion ban might take effect again soon.

Democratic state lawmakers cheered Thursday's ruling. Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) acknowledged the pause may be temporary, but said it was still a win for every Hoosier who needs vital care.

"Abortion care is health care and every extra day that this healthcare is available to women is critical," Taylor said.

Indiana House Democratic Caucus spokesperson Hannah Smith said the lawsuit was further evidence of Republicans wasting taxpayer dollars in their pursuit of an abortion ban.

"The GOP’s endless crusade to disenfranchise women and girls of personal choice and autonomy has already cost our state countless dollars, and this lawsuit will surely add to the tab of hard-working folk," Smith said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb only said his office would continue to monitor the case. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray declined to issue a new statement, pointing to previous remarks that he hopes the ban will survive a legal challenge.

Indiana abortion care providers Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai‘i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky; Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Women's Med Group Professional Corporation and All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center brought this lawsuit challenging the ban.

In a joint statement, they said the ruling provides relief, but said the fight is not over.

"Indiana lawmakers have made it abundantly clear that this harm, this cruelty, is exactly the reality they had in mind when they passed [the ban]," the providers said.

Indiana Right to Life is one of the state's most influential anti-abortion organizations. President and CEO Mike Fichter said the group was encouraged the judge's ruling acknowledged that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting fetuses.

"[We] are hopeful the blockage will be brief," Fichter said.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.