Health

Indiana abortion clinics see patients amid legal changes

INDIANAPOLIS — (AP) — Dr. Jeanne Corwin traveled about two hours on Friday from her hometown of Cincinnati to an Indianapolis abortion clinic, where she saw the clinic's first 12 patients the day after an Indiana judge blocked the state's abortion ban from being enforced.

It's a trip Corwin has made several times over the past few months, as her Ohio medical license allows her to sign off on required paperwork for Women's Med patients in Indiana to access care in the clinic's sister location in Dayton.

But with Indiana's abortion ban temporarily on hold — paired with a judge's Sept. 14 blocking of an Ohio ban on nearly all abortions — Women's Med and other Indiana abortion clinics resumed seeing patients on Friday while anticipating further change amid mercurial abortion access in the country following the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“It’s a glimmer of hope and common sense,” Corwin said of Thursday’s ruling blocking Indiana’s abortion ban.

One patient who went to the clinic on Friday was an Indianapolis woman who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns. It was for the 31-year-old’s second abortion, she said. Her first was at 16, when she was afraid of caring for a child and worried what her parents would think about her being pregnant.

“At the time, I felt like I was too young to have a child,” the patient said. “I can’t even imagine what life would be like now.”

Now focused on a career and with a son she had at 25, the patient said she chose an abortion because she and her partner decided another child would not be best for them right now.

Hours after Owen County Judge Kelsey Hanlon on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction against Indiana’s abortion ban, the state filed a promised appeal and motion asking the state’s high court to take up the case.

Under Indiana’s ban, which has exceptions, abortion clinics would have lost their licenses and been prohibited from providing any abortion care, leaving such services solely to hospitals or outpatient surgical centers owned by hospitals.

The ban also only permits abortions in cases of rape and incest before 10-weeks post-fertilization; to protect the life and physical health of the patient; or if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.

With Indiana's law on hold, bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy are in place in 12 Republican-led states. In Wisconsin, clinics have stopped providing abortions amid litigation over whether an 1849 ban is in effect. Georgia bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected. And Florida and Utah have bans that kick in after 15 and 18 weeks gestation, respectively. In Arizona, a judge ruled Friday that the state's near-total ban on abortions could be enforced.

The Indiana state attorney general’s office had asked Hanlon to uphold the state’s ban, saying arguments against it are based on a “novel, unwritten, historically unsupported right to abortion” in the state constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing the abortion clinics, filed the lawsuit Aug. 31 and argued the ban would “prohibit the overwhelming majority of abortions in Indiana and, as such, will have a devastating and irreparable impact on the plaintiffs and, more importantly, their patients and clients.”

Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, said Friday that the plaintiffs now have 15 days to file their response to the state’s request for the stay. He said he did not expect any immediate hearings on the matter.

Mike Fichter, president and CEO Indiana Right to Life, said in a statement that the organization is “encouraged by the judge’s acknowledgement of the state’s legitimate interest in protecting unborn babies” and “hopeful the blockage will be brief.”

While such legal conflicts play out in the background, Women's Med will provide abortions while it can, most likely starting next week, said Dr. Katie McHugh, an abortion provider at the clinic.

The patients that came through the clinic's doors Friday signed state-required consent forms ahead of their second appointment, which is when the abortion will take place. Indiana has an 18-hour waiting period on abortions, while Ohio’s is 24 hours.

A short-staffed Indiana clinic will also continue sending Indiana patients to Ohio for the procedure until Women's Med is back to normal numbers. Clinic staff has traveled between the two states to keep each clinic afloat when the other was closed, McHugh said.

“The last three months since the Dobbs decision have been so out of normal that we've had to, you know, make do with the time and the staff and the resources that we had,” McHugh said. “We're trying to get our footing again.”

Elsewhere in Indiana, Amy Hagstrom Miller — president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health — said that the South Bend abortion clinic is trying to "piece together adequate staff in order to see patients again.”

Jody Madeira, professor in the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said the judge’s interpretation of the Indiana Constitution’s article on liberty is encouraging for abortion-rights groups, who say liberty rights include bodily autonomy.

“This is quite a different argument than one might expect from a Republican judge, who tend to read the text of the Constitution narrowly,” said Madeira, who anticipates the Indiana Supreme Court will ultimately decide on the ban’s legality.

There are separate licensing procedures for abortion clinics and hospitals, another burden that proposes “legitimate and reasonable rationale for ending" the clinic's licenses, the judge's order states.

The question of whether the state constitution protects abortion rights is undecided. A state appeals court ruled in 2004 that privacy is a core value under the state constitution that extends to all residents, including women seeking an abortion.

But the Indiana Supreme Court later upheld a law requiring an 18-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion, though it didn’t decide whether the state constitution included the right to privacy or abortion.

“You can have the right," Madeira said. “But not the access or the infrastructure.”

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Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Arleigh Rodgers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers

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