Filed Date: Sept. 8, 2022
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This case is a challenge, on religious grounds, to Indiana's post-Dobbs anti-abortion law. Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 1 (SEA 1) criminalized all abortion, from conception onwards, except in some cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality, or when the pregnant woman faces the risk of death or certain severe health risks. This Indiana ban was the first to make it to the books following the Supreme Court's June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health.
The ACLU of Indiana filed this class-action lawsuit on September 8, 2022. The ACLU filed on behalf of Hoosier Jews for Choice, five individual anonymous religious state residents, and a plaintiff class of those similarly situated. The plaintiffs defined the class as all Indiana persons whose religious beliefs direct them to obtain abortions in situations prohibited by SEA 1, but will not be able to obtain one because of SEA 1. The complaint's sole legal claim is that Indiana's abortion ban violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Indiana Code § 34-13-9.07 et seq. Indiana's RFRA prohibits government action that substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion unless the burden serves a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering the interest. The plaintiffs argue that SEA 1 unacceptably burdens religion by prohibiting abortion even when the plaintiffs' religions would direct them to have abortions. For example:
The individual plaintiffs are women devoted to various faiths and many are concerned with the issues described above, and concerned overall that carrying some potential births to term would risk their physical, mental, and emotional health during and after pregnancy. Notably, one plaintiff is concerned with additional risks such as the heightened genetic risk Jewish women face of passing on certain incurable severe genetic disorders that most often cause death before the age of four, e.g., Tay-Sachs disease, for which one in every twenty-five Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier, Canavan disease, and Niemann-Pick disease. Under SEA 1, a woman would be forced to give birth to children with all of these conditions. Another plaintiff has Crohn's disease, where Crohn's poses a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, both of which risk the woman's health, and steroids often treat Crohn's, yet pregnant women are advised not to take steroids.
The plaintiffs sought class certification, declaratory relief, a preliminary and permanent injunction, and attorneys fees. The case was filed in Marion Superior Court 1 and heard by Judge Heather A. Welch. The parties postponed briefing the class certification portion of the case pending a decision on the preliminary injunction.
On December 2, 2022, Judge Welch granted a preliminary injunction. Procedurally, although Planned Parenthood Great Northwest. v. Medical Licensing Board of Indiana also challenged SEA 1, and although that court issued a preliminary injunction that the Indiana Supreme Court later refused to stay, Judge Welch said this the instant case was still ripe since this case was based on different legal claims and sources of rights. Judge Welch found facts in line with the plaintiff's factual allegations about Jewish, Islamic, Unitarian Universalist, Pagan, and Episcopalianism beliefs, and disagreed with Indiana's characterization that these beliefs were subjective and manipulable. She also found that the plaintiffs had established a likelihood of future success on the merits because, under RFRA, substantial burden means "the government put[s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs." The plaintiffs made out a prima facie case of such a substantial burden because they avoided becoming pregnant, despite wanting children. Judge Welch rejected Indiana's arguments: (1) she did not agree that abortion was only a "secular means to a religious end," (2) she said the state did not have a compelling interest in preserving life, because the question of when life begins had not been legislatively addressed and could not be a factual question for the court, and (3) she called SEA 1 under-inclusive, because it allowed some abortions, inferring that SEA 1 was not the least restrictive way for Indiana to achieve their goal. Last, she said the balance of harms, and the public interest, favored the preliminary injunction.
On December 9, 2022, Indiana appealed this grant of the preliminary injunction to the Court of Appeals of Indiana. As of December 21, the plaintiff's class action certification motion is proceeding in the trial court.
Sophia Bucci (1/3/2023)
Planned Parenthood Northwest v. Members of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, Indiana state trial court (2022)
State / Territory: Indiana
Filing Date: Sept. 8, 2022
Case Ongoing: Yes
Hoosier Jews for Choice, five individual anonymous religious state residents, and a proposed plaintiff class of all persons in Indiana whose religious beliefs direct them to obtain abortions in situations prohibited by S.E.A. 1 who need, or will need, to obtain an abortion and who are not, or will not be, able to obtain an abortion because of S.E.A. 1.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Pending
Causes of Action:
Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief
Prevailing Party: None Yet / None
Nature of Relief:
Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 2022 - None
Content of Injunction:
Affected Sex or Gender: