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Indiana judge to decide if health exception to abortion ban should be broader

Abortion has been illegal for most Hoosiers since last August. But abortion providers and advocates have launched multiple legal challenges to try to reverse the ban.

On Wednesday, a Monroe County Court will hear a case arguing that more Hoosiers should be able to seek abortions for health-related reasons, including mental health and other chronic health conditions that may cause pregnancy complications. Those pursuing the changes say the abortion exemptions need to be broadened to protect the life and wellbeing of Hoosiers.

What the Monroe County abortion case is about

If successful, the ruling may drastically expand the exemption in the abortion ban to include hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers.

Currently the state law allows for only three exemptions: in cases of rape or incest up to 10 weeks post-fertilization, to protect the life of the mother, and in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities.

“Hoosiers experiencing or at risk of pregnancy complications that may seriously and permanently impair their health—but that may not meet the limited exception for serious health risks set out in S.B. 1—will be forced to remain pregnant and to suffer serious and potentially life-long harms to their health,” abortion providers and advocates argued in the complaint submitted last November to Monroe County Circuit Court.

Where can abortions be performed in Indiana

The state law also restricted abortion care to hospital settings, shutting down clinics across the state that had been performing the majority of the procedures across the state. The plaintiffs in this case, who include the regional Planned Parenthood chapter, will also argue that the state needs to allow outpatient clinics to perform abortion services for Hoosiers to ease the burden of seeking care.

Those who are eligible for abortion care may have to travel hours for care because many hospitals do not perform the procedure. Numerous hospital systems do not provide abortion care at all, including several major religious hospital systems.

How common is abortion since the ban

Since last August when the state’s near-total abortion ban went into effect, the number of abortions performed in the state has decreased dramatically.

In the last three months of 2023, there were 46 abortions performed in the state across eight hospitals, compared to 1,724 in the same time period during 2022.

Most of the 2022 abortions occurred in Planned Parenthood outpatient clinics.

Supporters of abortion rights and anti-abortion rights protesters gather for a protest at the Indiana Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Indianapolis.Supporters of abortion rights and anti-abortion rights protesters gather for a protest at the Indiana Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Indianapolis.

Supporters of abortion rights and anti-abortion rights protesters gather for a protest at the Indiana Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, in Indianapolis.

Religious challenge to the abortion ban

The ACLU of Indiana is involved in another challenge to the ban. This lawsuit argues Hoosiers should be allowed to seek abortions under religious exemptions in accordance with the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Indiana Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU of Indiana in April to allow a small group of Hoosiers the right to abortion under the state’s religious freedom law. However, the court didn’t immediately grant abortion access to those not involved in the case.

The state said it would continue to fight the case as it makes its way to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Those interested in following the hearing on the Monroe County case can watch it remotely at this link: https://public.courts.in.gov/incs#/

Binghui Huang can be reached at 317-385-1595 or Bhuang@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Providers ask judge to expand abortion exemption for mental, chronic illnesses

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