Indiana's abortion ban has been halted by another lawsuit
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
First to Indiana, where a near-total ban on abortion was scheduled to take effect today. But a last-minute legal request from abortion providers and the ACLU asking the Indiana Supreme Court to rehear a previous challenge has put that ban on hold for now. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith joins us now to talk about the uncertainty surrounding this latest battle over abortion. Hi, Brandon.
BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: Good to be here.
CHANG: Good to have you. OK. So this law - I mean, it's considered one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country - right? - if it goes into effect. What do those restrictions cover exactly?
SMITH: Right. Well, under the law, more than 90% - 9-0 percent - of the abortions that are traditionally performed in Indiana every year would now be banned because the only exceptions allowed by the law are if the pregnant person's serious health or life is at risk, if there's a lethal fetal anomaly. But then that only goes up to about 22 weeks of pregnancy. And abortions would still be allowed in cases of rape or incest but only up to about 12 weeks of pregnancy. So, again, 90-plus percent of abortions that have traditionally been done in Indiana would be banned under this law.
CHANG: OK. And I understand the Indiana legislature passed these restrictions - what? - nearly a year ago. Was that part of the plan to delay for a year or almost a year?
SMITH: No, no, it absolutely was not. The restrictions, which were the - Indiana was the first state post the Dobbs decision to convene and pass new restrictions. But those restrictions were originally set to take effect mid-September of 2022. But there was legal action pretty much right away...
SMITH: ...After the law was signed by the governor. And to be fair, I think lawmakers were expecting a lawsuit. But that legal process has been playing out over the last year. And it finally came to a head, at least in this initial lawsuit, a month ago, at the end of June, when the Indiana Supreme Court issued its final decision, saying that the state constitution and its guarantee of liberty does not cover abortion rights, with just two exceptions. It did say that the state constitution only guarantees abortion rights in cases where the pregnant person's life or serious health is at risk. So the court upheld basically the entire law as the General Assembly passed it. And now we've been waiting for the last month for that ruling to finally take effect.
CHANG: OK. And today was supposed to be the day it would take effect. But how does this last-minute petition complicate matters at this point?
SMITH: Quite considerably. That 30-day window where we were waiting for the ruling to take effect is to allow the parties who didn't win - so in this case, it was the ACLU representing abortion care providers, the clinics around the state who do the vast majority of abortions in Indiana - it allows that group to ask the court to reconsider the case. It's called a petition for rehearing. They did that at almost the last minute on the last day possible. They filed that petition at 3:47 p.m. yesterday. And so now we're waiting at least for the Indiana Supreme Court to weigh in on this petition. They can grant it. They can deny it. The attorney general's office might need to weigh in with a reply. So until all of that happens, until the Supreme Court says, yes, we will grant this petition or no, we won't, the ban cannot take effect. And so there's really a real uncertainty...
SMITH: ...About the timing of when that might happen.
CHANG: And this uncertainty could spread and effect people outside Indiana, right? Like, there have been people traveling to Indiana from surrounding states where there are already bans in place. What is the impact of Indiana's uncertainty to those people?
SMITH: Well, leading up to today, I think one of the biggest ways we saw the uncertainty was in that the abortion clinics who were still providing abortion care while it was legal - they were booked with appointments a month out up until August 1, up until today. And then today itself, I think we've seen a real impact in that Planned Parenthood, one of the state's primary abortion care providers, said today that it simply cannot any longer provide abortions, even though the law - that ban - hasn't taken effect. Rebecca Gibron is the regional CEO of Planned Parenthood, and she explained today why they made that decision.
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REBECCA GIBRON: It's not patient-centered care to try to have patients navigate through this chaos and turbulence at the whims of extreme lawmakers.
CHANG: So, Brandon, what do we know about what happens next now?
SMITH: Unfortunately, not a lot. This is - we're now in the hands of the legal process, which doesn't move quickly in the best of times. The Supreme Court at some point will either grant or deny that petition, but they don't have a clock on them. They don't have to do it within a certain amount of time.
SMITH: And unfortunately, there's just no way to know exactly how much time it will take.
CHANG: Brandon Smith is the Statehouse bureau chief for Indiana Public Broadcasting. Thank you, Brandon.
SMITH: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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