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Thursday, June 29, 2017 1:00 am

Abortion law hit with injunction

Federal judge says too vague

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A federal judge Wednesday blocked the bulk of Indiana's newest abortion law that was set to go into effect Saturday.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky – represented by the ACLU of Indiana – won a preliminary injunction against three key provisions. The legal case will continue, but in the meantime the law can't be enforced.

“The underlying principles that infuse these statutes and judicial opinions reach far beyond mere theory and legal debate to affect directly the behavior and freedom of individuals, families, communities, and society,” U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker said in her ruling.

Legislators passed Senate Bill 404 in April, and it focused on the rules and regulations in place when a minor seeks an abortion.

The statute created new penalties against doctors who perform abortions – from actions against their license to criminal charges.

The first section of the law would require abortion doctors verify the parental relationship between a pregnant teen and the adult at the appointment that is providing consent. This could be done through documentation such as a birth certificate or custody papers, but the law doesn't give examples.

Advocates allege some adults are posing as parents to help teens get abortions without parental consent.

Barker said the law was vague and provided no guidance regarding what would legally suffice in the way of documentation.

“Given the highly controversial and often politicized nature of abortion rights, the danger that locally-elected prosecutors and other enforcement officials could use the imprecision and malleability of the standard to further their own views and agendas is especially problematic,” she ruled.

Another provision at issue is a prohibition on people aiding or assisting a minor in obtaining an abortion without satisfying the consent procedures.

Planned Parenthood says the provision violates the First Amendment because it means the organization can't advise patients that they have the option to travel to other states for an abortion.

“The State has not articulated the specific psychological harm to minors that is caused by the dissemination of truthful information concerning lawful abortion options, particularly given that such information is widely available to the public,” the ruling said.

The injunction, though, applies only to Planned Parenthood and its staff – not other Hoosiers who might aid a teen.

The third – and most complicated – section has to do with judicial bypass abortions. Under this system, a girl can petition a juvenile judge for permission to get an abortion without parental consent.

Statewide in 2015, 25 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 had abortions, and 219 between the ages of 15 and 17 did. Testimony suggested about 20 cases of judicial bypass each year.

Currently, the procedure is confidential, but the new law allows a judge to alert parents or legal guardians that a teen is seeking an abortion. The judge can also find it is not in the best interest of a child for parents to be told.

Barker said the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on a similar notice requirement. She said the deterrent effect of the proposed parental-notification requirements unquestionably burdens the right of abortion-seeking minors in Indiana.

“The inescapable fact is that the government's intervention in this respect will have a far greater impact on the pregnant minor's bodily integrity than it will on the parents' authority,” Barker said. “For this reason, the mature minor as the individual who bears the full consequences of the ultimate decision is entitled to an opportunity to proceed without state-mandated interference from her parents.”

nkelly@jg.net