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Federal Judge Blocks Abortion Ultrasound Requirement

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A federal judge has blocked an Indiana law that would have required women to undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion. House Enrolled Act 1337 went into effect last year. It added the 18 hour requirement to the state’s existing ultrasound requirement. Previously, it was possible for women to have the ultrasound and the abortion procedure on the same day.

CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Betty Cockrum, says the requirement flew in the face of evidence-based medical practices. She elaborated on the current procedure, saying “Yes, there absolutely needs to be an ultrasound; but ideally, that’s done before the abortion procedure. For the lawmakers to step into our doctor’s offices and suggest that instead the ultrasound needs to be performed at least 18 hours in-advance; then sets up a requirement for women seeking an abortion in Indiana to have to make two trips to the facility where the ultrasound exists.”

Cockrum’s organization challenged the law in court, saying it placed an undue burden on the right to an abortion. Federal District judge, Tanya Pratt, agreed with that argument; and on Friday issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law. In her decision, Judge Pratt says, quote, “The burdens it creates on women … which are significant even if not overwhelming, dramatically outweigh the benefits, making the burdens undue and the new ultrasound law likely unconstitutional.” Attorneys for the State of Indiana argued that the ultrasound and waiting period do not constitute an undue burden, and that the Supreme Court has previously decided not to overturn mandatory ultrasound laws.

In an interview this afternoon, Cockrum said the requirement would be particularly challenging for the patients served by Planned Parenthood: “It is a fact across the country, and certainly in Indiana, that a disproportionate number of women seeking abortions are low-income. Oftentimes, they are working outside of the home. They are caretakers of other family members, they have children and daycare issues, they may not have reliable transportation, they certainly can’t afford overnight lodging; and in some cases, they are victims of domestic violence. To suggest – for absolutely no reason – that they have to come in against medical protocol 18 hours in advance when doctors are going to wish to do the ultrasound again the next day before the procedure, it has no purpose. It is simply there to serve as a barrier to abortion.

The injunction blocks the state from enforcing the ultrasound requirement until a final ruling is issued in the case. HEA 1337 is the subject of multiple other lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and allied groups including the ACLU. The law, one of the most restrictive in the nation, requires burial or cremation of fetal remains, and also prohibits abortions sought due to genetic abnormalities or disabilities. The same federal judge also issued injunctions stopping those requirements from being put into effect.  

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