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Planned Parenthood sues Indiana over new abortion law

April 7, 2016

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky has filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Indiana's new abortion law.

The new measure, signed by Gov. Mike Pence late last month, bans abortions sought because of fetal abnormalities, including those that can lead to later miscarriages, and mandates fetal remains be either cremated or buried. The law makes Indiana one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to abortion.

In the suit, Planned Parenthood says the law "imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion because it bars that choice under certain circumstances, even if the pregnancy is in its early stages and the fetus is not viable."

The lawsuit names the Indiana State Department of Health, county prosecutors and members of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana as defendants.

The new restrictions have prompted a backlash from abortion-rights activists, who have launched a campaign in which women called Pence's office to tell him about their periods. The activists plan a more traditional protest with a rally Saturday at the Indiana Statehouse.

Women taking part in the phone blast have been offering information about their menstrual cycles, if they had cramps and other updates to the governor's flustered phone staff and posting the conversations to Twitter or a Facebook group. The "Periods for Pence" page has amassed thousands of "likes" in nearly a week. One caller asked if Pence could recommend a gynecologist.

"We are always willing to take calls from constituents who have questions, concerns or are looking for assistance," Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said. The office received nearly 100 calls since the page began and most this week have come from out of state, the governor's spokesman, Matt Lloyd, said. The constituent phone line had a constant busy tone for a brief time Wednesday.

Pence built a reputation in Congress as an anti-abortion activist and billed the new law as a "comprehensive pro-life measure."

Anti-abortion laws have seen much success in Indiana, with little opposition from the GOP-dominated Legislature. Among those are restrictions on insurance coverage, waiting periods for procedures and limits on when abortions can be performed.

The new layer of contention comes less than a month before Indiana's primary election, and Pence already faces a tough re-election campaign. He's taken criticism over social issues that made national news, like a furor over a religious freedom law that critics saw as anti-gay, and is in a rematch against Democrat John Gregg, whom he defeated narrowly in 2012.

But Indiana University political science professor Marjorie Hershey predicted the impact on the governor will be minimal. She cited the months yet before the general election and historically low voter turnouts outside of his socially conservative base.

"His base loves this stuff and that's what he is appealing to," Hershey said. "So it depends on which group is more effectively outraged."

Annette Gross, a co-organizer of Saturday's rally, said though Pence signed the abortion measure into law, she is also frustrated with the 97 lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill. That includes Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who rarely votes on legislation. His Democratic opponent, Dana Black, plans to speak at the rally.

"I'm not that naive to think that 3,200 people is going to cause the governor to take back the bill, but he cannot hide in his ivory tower and pretend everything is OK because it's not," Gross said. "I don't know if it will change anything, but at least it gives people a voice."

The Rev. Marie Siroky, a United Church of Christ hospital chaplain in northwest Indiana and co-organizer of the rally, said adding a penalty for abortion will complicate patient-doctor relationships.

"I don't think people realize the trauma this can cause," Siroky said. "I guarantee you that people will not seek care. They are going to be so scared to go to the ER and you can't be honest with your doctor."

Indiana Right to Life and other anti-abortion advocates say the law will protect lives.

"The upcoming Planned Parenthood abortion rally is an ugly reminder of the hate directed at unborn children who are vulnerable to abortion because of their gender, race or potential disability," Sue Swayze, IRL vice president for public affairs, said in an email.

Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life, said in a written statement that Planned Parenthood brings in $2 million a year in abortion revenue in Indiana and opposes "any common sense law that protects women and children" because it wants to protect its "lucrative abortion business."

Several female GOP lawmakers, some of whom have sponsored anti-abortion legislation in the past, opposed the latest law.

"I think it makes Indiana appear to be very intolerant of women's reproductive health issues," said State Sen. Vaneta Becker, an Evansville Republican. "And I think some people will feel the effects of this in the upcoming election."

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