Abortion remained a contentious issue in 2016 – the state saw a new law, demonstrations and three lawsuits. The Indiana’s abortion debate could continue to be a focus as the the 2017 legislative session gets underway.
In recent years, lawmakers in a handful of states have passed more restrictive abortion laws. Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Ken Falk says Indiana is part of that trend.
“I think the legislative inclination, as indicated by the statutes that keep getting passed, indicates that it wants to be as restrictive as possible,” says Falk.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood blocked a number of the recent statutes in court – including measures to defund Planned Parenthood and stricter building standards for certain abortion clinics.
And Falk represented Planned Parenthood in its most recent suit against the state, last year.
“The legislature said that if you are getting an abortion for certain reasons, one of them being because of genetic disabilities, you could not get an abortion,” Falk says.
With genetic disabilities, the law also banned abortions motivated by the race or gender of the fetus.
Former Rep. Casey Cox sponsored the bill last year.
“It also says that ours is a policy that values your life – no matter who you are or what your disability may be,” says Cox.
The 2016 law also included provisions that would require an unborn fetus to be cremated or buried and have a death certificate. Both new regulations were ruled unconstitutional by a district court.
The state may still appeal.
Pieces of this past year’s law still stand – a court has yet to rule on a suit over the new law that women view and an ultrasound and listen to a heartbeat 18 hours before an abortion. The state already requires the review, just not 18 hours before, and women may sign a form to decline.
Indiana Right to Life would not comment for this story but said in a press release that this 18 hour rule gives women more information about their health and pregnancy.
The pro-life organization says it cannot comment until a third lawsuit is resolved: The 2016 law also made it illegal to use fetal remains in scientific research.
Indiana University is suing the state. The initial hearing for the case is slated for September 2017.
A number of the regulations passed since 2011 stand as well, including the law that physicians have hospital admitting privileges and that abortions may only be performed through the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood still opposes the trend toward more restrictions, but its Indiana and Kentucky vice president for public policy Patti Stauffer says she is hopeful.
“I think if there is one thing, a silver lining to this very egregious legislation that we saw passed last session is that it mobilized a lot of people to sort of see where this could go when people aren’t paying attention,” says Stauffer.
In this 2017 legislative session, a new house bill would ban all abortions. Hoosiers for Life executive director Amy Schlichter worked with its author, Rep. Curt Nisly, last year on a bill that would have banned abortions after a heartbeat is detected. She says it didn’t go far enough.
“Why mess around with regulating abortion when we can go for the gold,” says Schlichter. “If it’s going to get caught up in court and create this whole façade, well it’s already doing that with their incremental bills.”
But the forecast for the new bill is poor. Lawmakers like Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma have indicated they are not in a hurry to get into another lawsuit.
“I don’t think we’re in the business of getting way ahead of the curve so that we can be a test case that’s going to cost the state money,” Bosma says.
Whether or not the proposed bill gets a hearing or is included in another bill won’t be determined until late February.