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Supreme Court Upholds Part of Indiana’s Controversial 2016 Abortion Law

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Pro-choice supporters cheering at U.S. Supreme Court

The nation’s highest court upheld a restriction on part of a controversial Indiana abortion law Tuesday, determining that states cannot block patients from seeking abortions motivated by race, sex or disability.

The argument stems from a law first signed by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in 2016, which would have placed new restrictions on ultrasounds required for abortions, among other issues. A federal court blocked the law in its entirety in 2017, prompting an appeals process that resulted in Tuesday’s action by the Supreme Court.

Though the justices ruled that a measure in the law to allow states to prohibit abortions motivated by the specific characteristics of an unborn fetus should be struck down, the court upheld a separate provision requiring that fetal tissue be buried or cremated.

Chris Charbonneau, CEO at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the fetal tissue provision was designed to shame patients.

“The anti-reproductive health politicians who created these laws to shame patients have no place in the exam room,” she said. “Planned Parenthood remains vigilant in working to stop the unprecedented rollback of reproductive rights and freedom.”

And Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said he believes that if the high court had reviewed the fetal tissue part of the case the provision would also have been struck down because it places an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion.

He also noted that the Supreme Court ruling upholds a woman’s right to an abortion no matter the reason.

In a concurring opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas argued certain forms of reproductive healthcare — abortion most of all — create an environment for abuse and even the promotion of eugenics, or the idea that populations can be controlled according to preferred characteristics like race or physical ability.

“This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation,” Thomas wrote in his opinion. “Enshrining a constitutional right to an abortion based solely on the race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the views of the 20th-century eugenics movement.”

The ruling follows several high-profile abortion discussions around the nation, such as the passage of two restrictive abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia this month. Anti-abortion proponents hope to see each law reviewed by what is now a majority-conservative Supreme Court to potentially overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Opponents, however, have taken to the streets in Indiana and beyond in recent weeks to protest the laws, which they say infringe on the ability of women to control their own bodies.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana also filed a lawsuit at the end of the 2019 legislative session challenging the state’s most recent attempt to limit abortion. In this case — House Enrolled Act 1211— lawmakers sought to ban the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation (D&E). The law describes the surgery as a “dismemberment abortion” in which a fetus is extracted “one piece at a time” from a patient.

The ACLU has filed numerous lawsuits against state abortion laws in recent years.

Thomas spoke largely to this wider debate surrounding abortion in the court documents, including questions left unanswered by the recent case.

“Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever,” Thomas writes.

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