Indiana judge blocks enforcement of abortion ban passed by Republicans

Indiana judge blocks enforcement of abortion ban passed by Republicans

Week-old legislation that severely limited procedure likely offended ‘liberty guarantees’ of state constitution, judge says

A woman holds a "No Forced Births" sign.

An Indiana judge on Thursday blocked enforcement of the state’s abortion ban, putting the new law on hold as clinic operators argue it violates the state constitution.

The Owen county judge, Kelsey Hanlon, issued a preliminary injunction against the ban that took effect a week ago. The injunction was sought by clinic operators who argued the state constitution protects abortion access.

The ban was approved by Indiana’s Republican-held state legislature on 5 August and signed by the Republican governor, Eric Holcomb. It made Indiana the first state to enact tighter abortion restrictions since the US supreme court eliminated federal protections by overturning Roe v Wade in June.

The judge wrote: “There is reasonable likelihood that this significant restriction of personal autonomy offends the liberty guarantees of the Indiana constitution.”

Hanlon also said the clinics would prevail in the lawsuit. The order prevents the state from enforcing the ban pending trial.

The state attorney general and Republican leaders did not immediately comment.

The ban, which includes limited exceptions, replaced laws that generally prohibited abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and tightly restricted them after the 13th week.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on 31 August, arguing the ban would “prohibit the overwhelming majority of abortions in Indiana and, as such, will have a devastating and irreparable impact on the plaintiffs and, more importantly, their patients and clients”.

Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana legal director, pointed to the state’s declaration of rights, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, in arguing before the judge on Monday that it included a right to privacy and to make decisions on whether to have children.

The office of the state attorney general said the court should uphold the ban, saying arguments against it were based on a “novel, unwritten, historically unsupported right to abortion” in the state constitution.

“The constitutional text nowhere mentions abortion, and Indiana has prohibited or heavily regulated abortion by statute since 1835 – before, during and after the time when the 1851 Indiana constitution was drafted, debated and ratified,” the office said.

The ban includes exceptions allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest before 10 weeks post-fertilization, to protect the life and physical health of the mother and if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.

The law also prohibited abortion clinics from providing any abortion care, leaving such services to be provided solely by hospitals or outpatient surgical centers owned by hospitals.

The lawsuit was filed in Monroe county, which includes the liberal-leaning city of Bloomington and Indiana University. Two elected Democratic judges from that county declined to handle the case, without stating any reasons.

Hanlon, a Republican from neighboring Owen county, accepted appointment as special judge.