Indiana abortion providers accepting patients while state ban stays on hold

Clinics across Indiana are once again accepting patients seeking abortions after a county judge last week ordered a temporary pause to the state’s near-total ban on the procedure.

An Owen County judge issued the preliminary injunction Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to strike down Indiana’s near-total abortion ban. The court order halted the state’s new abortion law one week after it took effect.

Since then, clinics have rushed to resume abortion care. That has meant rescheduling appointments, re-assigning staff and making it clear to patients how they can access abortions while the ban stays on hold.

Abortion care resumes in Indiana, for now

Judge Kelsey Blake Hanlon, a Republican, said in her ruling that the ban “materially burdens the bodily autonomy of Indiana’s women and girls by significantly and arbitrarily limiting their access to care.”

Under the injunction, the state’s previous abortion law stands — allowing abortion up to 20 weeks.

A South Bend clinic is still working to coordinate staff in order to accept patients again, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.

Meanwhile, calls to the Hoosier Abortion Fund have additionally picked back up since the law was paused, said Jessica Marchbank with All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center. The nonprofit operates a pregnancy resource center that includes the abortion fund. Many callers have been confused about the injunction and whether they still qualify to receive abortion care.

Planned Parenthood, historically the largest abortion provider in Indiana, made the procedure available again on Thursday, immediately following the injunction, said Nicole Erwin, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates.

“This preliminary injunction is more critical than ever in making sure Hoosiers and patients outside of Indiana have access to time-sensitive, basic care, no matter what,” Erwin told the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

After the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in June, Indiana has become “an important regional hub” to provide abortion care to patients in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even as far as Texas, Erwin said. She noted, too, that if more states move forward with abortion bans, “we will continue to see an influx in out-of-state patients coming to Indiana for care.”

She said the organization has spent months preparing for an abortion ban, including the development of a plan to help patients access abortion care out of state. Although not so necessary now, that pipeline could become vital again if the abortion ban takes effect again.

“The chaos, confusion, and devastation we are now seeing across the country is exactly the environment anti-abortion lawmakers have worked for decades to create, and it is no different in Indiana,” Erwin said. “While the uncertainty surrounding access to abortion care may continue to change, our commitment to providing care has not — our doors remain open, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure patients know that we are here to help no matter what.”

Stipulations of the injunction

The pause on the ban only applies to Marion, Monroe, Hendricks, Lake, St. Joseph, Tippecanoe and Warrick counties. Local prosectors in those counties are defendants in the ACLU of Indiana lawsuit. Hanlon’s ruling prohibits them — or the state Medical Licensing Board — from enforcing the new law. In those counties, physicians can continue to offer abortions, as previously allowed in the state, prior to Sept. 15.

Indiana University Health, the state’s largest healthcare system, said its providers — that are located in the counties specified in the injunction — will “follow the law as it existed” before the ban took effect.

All of the abortions performed in Indiana last year were carried out in the seven counties, according to the Indiana Department of Health. Nearly three-quarters of the procedures were performed in Marion County, Indiana’s most populous.

Still, it’s not yet clear how many abortions have been performed since the injunction took effect — including in cases when the procedure would have been illegal under the ban.

Physicians are required by state law to submit a terminated pregnancy report to the state department of health within 30 days after performing an abortion for patients age 16 and older. Abortions performed on anyone younger must be submitted within three days, although state data indicates the vast majority — more than 99% of abortions in 2021 — are for those at least 16 years old.

The state requirements mean there’s often a delay before reports are filed. Reliable data on abortions performed since the injunction won’t be available for another month.

Court challenges ongoing

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal late Thursday night that seeks to throw out the injunction. Lawyers representing the state are hoping to advance the issue straight to the Indiana Supreme Court.

No court dates have been scheduled yet for the appeal, but a motion filed Monday by state attorneys requested the matter be expedited, noting that “this life-and-death urgency demands immediate attention.”

If Hanlon’s ruling is suspended, the new abortion ban would take effect again.

The Indiana ban outlaws most abortions except in the case of a fatal fetal anomaly or serious health risk to the mother. One part of the law says these exceptions are up to 20 weeks but another part says they can be used anytime. Rape survivors can get an abortion up to 10 weeks post-fertilization. It also strips abortion clinics of their state medical licenses, and provides that only hospitals and hospital-owned ambulatory surgical centers can provide abortions.

Still to come, a second lawsuit, also led by the ACLU of Indiana, seeks to strike down the ban on the basis that it violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. An initial hearing in the case has been set for Oct. 14.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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