Indiana law setting surgery center rules for abortion pill clinics ruled unconstitutional

Government And Institutions Associated Press

A federal judge has ruled against an Indiana law that changed the classification of abortion clinics in a way that opponents said targeted a Planned Parenthood facility that only provides drug-induced abortions.

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The law violated equal protection rights by treating the Lafayette clinic differently than physician offices that provide the same medications, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said in a ruling released Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood would have had to take steps, such as adding a recovery room and scrub facilities, so that the Lafayette clinic met the same standards as surgical abortion clinics in order to continue offering the abortion pill under the GOP-backed law signed by Gov. Mike Pence in 2013.

The law had not yet taken effect because Magnus-Stinson put it on hold last year after the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit on Planned Parenthood's behalf. The judge's ruling didn't immediately void the law, with details of a permanent injunction still to be decided.

Magnus-Stinson wrote that the state had no rational basis for treating the Lafayette clinic and physician offices differently.

"It results in disparate treatment between an 'abortion clinic' and the undefined 'physician's office,' which remains statutorily authorized to perform medication abortions without complying with the physical plant requirements," the judge wrote.

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State attorneys argued during an October hearing that the law required the clinic to be "minimally prepared" in case a woman who was prescribed the abortion pill returned with emergency complications.

Magnus-Stinson also ruled the law wrongly prohibited the state Department of Health from waiving building requirements for abortion clinics while allowing such waivers for hospitals and surgical centers that also perform abortions.

She directed a magistrate judge to meet with both sides to determine what damages Planned Parenthood might be entitled to receive before issuing a final ruling.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a Republican, said in a statement Thursday that his office was reviewing the ruling for what steps it might take next.

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said he believed the judge's decision was sufficient to void the law and that he didn't know of additional arguments the state could raise. But Indiana Right to Life president Mike Fichter said he believed the law could be reworded by legislators "to ensure patient safety is truly met."

Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the law was medically unnecessary and "designed to chip away at a woman's right to access a safe, legal abortion."

The Lafayette clinic is the only one in the state that offers only drug-induced abortions. Eight surgical abortion clinics are currently licensed in Indiana, including three run by Planned Parenthood, according to state records.