Indiana pro-lifers lament ruling but say fight to save unborn undeterred

By Natalie Hoefer | Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — A U.S. District Court judge placed a permanent injunction Aug. 10 on several Indiana pro-life laws, including those that required physicians examine patients in person before performing abortions and that said only physicians can administer first-trimester medication abortions.

An IndyStar article said several requirements in state law were deemed unconstitutional by Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in a ruling in Whole Health Alliance v. Rokita.

She did uphold some provisions, including the requirements that only physicians can provide first-trimester aspiration, or suction, abortions and that ultrasounds must be performed before an abortion.

But the IndyStar said she blocked the state’s ban on the use of telemedicine as it regards abortion — whereby doctors use an online platform to prescribe abortion-inducing mifepristone and misoprostol.

She also put a stop on a requirement that second-trimester abortions must be performed in a hospital or ambulatory outpatient surgical center as well as blocked requirements that abortion providers provide state-backed information to patients on fetal pain, the beginning of life and the mental health risks of abortion.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita gives a thumbs-up to a crowd in Carmel, Ind., gathered for the Indiana March for Life rally Jan. 22, 2021. (CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

“It’s horrible,” Right to Life of Indianapolis president Marc Tuttle told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “This is a broad-sweeping abuse of judicial power, no doubt about it. Especially when you look at hospital admissions for abortion past the first trimester. A lot of those laws had been in place for 30 years. This is devastating.”

He said the ruling “opens up abortion on demand without a doctor throughout the state well past the gestation limits in place now. It also opens the door for abortion clinics to open in Fort Wayne and Evansville — Planned Parenthood has made no bones about wanting to open in Evansville.”

Indiana Right to Life executive director Mike Fichter agreed.

“This is a horrific ruling that will directly lead to a massive expansion of chemical and late term abortions in Indiana,” he said in a statement.

“The sweeping blockage of these commonsense laws jeopardizes the health and safety of women, leaves women in the dark on issues of fetal pain and the development of human life, and places communities like Fort Wayne and Evansville clearly in the crosshairs for abortion business expansion,” he said. “This is judicial activism at its absolute worst.”

Other provisions challenged in the case that Evans Barker upheld were requirements that abortion providers maintain admitting privileges with a hospital or a written agreement with a provider who has such privileges; that minors receive either parental consent or a judicial waiver to receive an abortion; and that patients delay their abortions for at least 18 hours after receiving state-mandated disclosures.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a pro-life Catholic, said in a statement that Evans Barker’s ruling “only strengthens our resolve to keep fighting for the lives of unborn children and the health of mothers. … We will continue to fight to defend Indiana’s commonsense abortion laws and to build a culture of life in Indiana.”

He said he was grateful the District Court “upheld Indiana’s eminently reasonable laws requiring ultrasounds, limiting surgical abortions to licensed physicians, ensuring pre-abortion counseling sessions are provided by physicians or advanced-practice clinicians, and imposing criminal penalties for violations of abortion laws.”

But he lamented the injunction placed on other provisions in the law, thus contradicting “binding precedent, including a 7th Circuit (appeals court) decision that upheld the very same in-person-counseling Indiana law that the district court invalidated today.”

In an interview with The Criterion, Rokita noted the District Court judge’s ruling “underscores how real this fight is in legal terms, period.”

“We have a real fight on our hands, and these recent rulings — not just Judge (Evans) Barker’s ruling — point out how chaotic these rulings are becoming,” he said. “The precedent doesn’t jive across the country, so judges take liberty by applying facts that would have otherwise been decided against. That leads to a lot of chaotic jurisprudence.”

The attorney general has filed suit with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay on the permanent injunctions. But Rokita is willing to “go to the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to.”

“We’re going to hope that the 7th Circuit recognizes the right of society — a group of people, in this case Hoosiers — who elected representatives as their lawmakers, to respect the laws those representatives make. We don’t find anything Indiana has done as being unconstitutional.”

While Rokita is determined to fight the ruling in court, he noted that the battle is not just legal.

“I continue to believe that at the root of all this, the best solution is going to be not to rest or focus completely on the legal aspect of this fight,” he said. “It’s going to not just be about making abortion illegal or limited, but unthinkable. That’s where the church comes in.

“We’ve got to be changing hearts and minds … There’s a lot of evidence that elements of the culture are pro-life — we just need to make it the majority. That will bring along judges.”

Rokita added, “We have real opposition, whether it’s Hollywood or media or the nonparochial school system. But our work as a church and as God-loving people means you don’t have to wait for the attorney general to be in court. The real fight is the hand-to-hand combat of changing hearts and minds.”

For this reason, said Tuttle, the recent decision — which “doesn’t have much in the way of a silver lining” — ultimately does not alter the mission of the pro-life movement.

“Our main mission is to make abortion unthinkable and illegal,” he said. “Abortion is becoming increasingly unpopular in public opinion, and fewer women choose abortion year after year. For the pro-life movement, we need to continue to work to decrease the number of abortions regardless of what the law is.”

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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