Indiana’s ban on telemedicine consultations between doctors and women seeking abortions and several other abortion restrictions are back in force after a federal appeals court set aside a judge’s ruling that they were unconstitutional.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued a 2-1 ruling Wednesday that allows Indiana to continue enforcing those laws while the court considers a full appeal of the case.
It said District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s ruling last month was inconsistent with previous Supreme Court decisions and reinstated Indiana’s telemedicine ban, along with state laws requiring in-person examinations by a doctor before medication-induced abortions can be performed and a prohibition on second-trimester abortions outside of hospitals or surgery centers.
“Plaintiffs contend, and the district court found, that developments in videoconferencing make it possible to dispense with in-person meetings, that improvements in medicine make the use of hospitals or surgical centers unnecessary, and that nurses are competent to approve and monitor medication-induced abortions,” the ruling said. “The district court concluded that these findings permit it to depart from the holdings of earlier cases. Yet the Supreme Court insists that it alone has the authority to modify its precedents.”
Barker, who was nominated as a federal judge in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, had ruled that the state didn’t have the constitutional authority to restrict the use of virtual telemedicine services to women seeking medication abortions without providing evidence that it benefitted the women’s health.
The Indiana attorney general’s office argued in its appeal of Barker’s decision that “the Constitution does not require state legislatures constantly to update state statutes to keep up with ever-advancing technologies just because those technologies may make abortion more convenient.”
Drug-induced abortions made up 55% of those performed in Indiana last year, according to the state health department.
Appeals court Judge Diane Wood wrote in her dissent that the “benefits of Indiana’s law are illusory, while its burdens are very tangible.”
Wood wrote that the laws” impose an undue burden on the set of women for whom the law makes a difference — Indiana women of limited means who cannot leave their jobs, pay for extensive travel, obtain access to cars, and potentially go out of state, simply to obtain a lawful abortion.”
The Indiana abortion restrictions were challenged in a broad lawsuit filed by Virginia-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and other abortion rights supporters in 2018 as Whole Woman’s Health fought the state’s denial of a license to open an abortion clinic in South Bend.
Rupali Sharma, a lawyer for Whole Woman’s Health, said the court’s decision was being reviewed and all legal options were under consideration.
The state's Republican attorney general, Todd Rokita, hailed the appeals court decision.
“We would expect our commonsense laws to be upheld as the appeal continues,” Rokita said in a statement. “Protecting the culture of life is the top priority of my office, and we will continue fighting for every life alongside our legislative partners.”
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