INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana ACLU filed suit in federal court Thursday to halt the enforcement of a new state abortion restriction, less than 24 hours after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1211 into law.
The civil liberties organization claims the state's near-total prohibition on dilation and evacuation abortions, which the law calls "dismemberment abortion," violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by illegally burdening the right of women to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that if the statute is permitted to go into force, as scheduled, on July 1, Hoosier women effectively will be prohibited from terminating a pregnancy between 13 and 20 weeks gestation, even when the fetus has a fatal or profound anomaly.
That's because the doctors represented by the ACLU perform dilation and evacuation abortions only at that stage of pregnancy, since other methods of termination, such as inducing premature labor, are medically unnecessary and significantly more dangerous to a pregnant woman, according to the lawsuit.
"Doctors have an ethical obligation not to subject their patients to potentially harmful procedures that provide no medical benefit. This law would force doctors to do just that," said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director.
State records show just 27 women obtained an abortion in Indiana using the dilation and evacuation procedure in 2017, out of 7,778 total abortions. All 27 were performed at hospitals in Indianapolis and Carmel.
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Nevertheless, anti-abortion lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly said the statute is needed to end the "barbaric" procedure, which requires a doctor to use forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments to remove a sometimes disarticulated fetus from a woman's uterus.
The law still permits the procedure to be used if a woman otherwise would suffer "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."
Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. is expected to defend the legitimacy of the new law. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said: "Hoosiers spoke up in great numbers against the atrocity of dismemberment abortions this spring. Legislators listened, and thanks to Gov. Eric Holcomb's signature, children will be protected from barbaric dismemberment abortions in Indiana."
Similar laws restricting the procedure enacted by other states repeatedly have been found by federal courts to be an unconstitutional burden on the right to abortion and struck down.