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A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a law in Indiana requiring doctors to notify women undergoing drug-induced abortion of controversial treatment in order to potentially stop the abortion process.
The verdict came shortly before the so-called Abortion Repeal Act, which was passed by Indiana’s Republican-dominated legislature, came into effect. Indianapolis District Judge James Patrick Hanlon’s injunction puts the law on hold as the lawsuit against the court finds its way through the judicial system.
Hanlon ruled that the abortion rights groups had a “reasonable chance” of proving that the requirement violated the freedom of expression of abortion providers. He also noted that the state had failed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the reversal process, which involves taking a drug other than the second of the two drugs involved in the procedure.
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“While the state may require abortion providers to provide certain types of information to a woman trying to perform an abortion as part of the informed consent process, that information must be at least truthful and not misleading,” wrote Hanlon, a commissioner for the former President Donald Trump.
Abortion rights groups who filed the lawsuit argued that the legal requirement would confuse patients and increase the stigma associated with an abortion, while at the same time compelling doctors to provide what they believe to be dubious medical information. Medical groups claim that the process of “reversing” the abortion pill is not backed by science and that little information is available about its safety.
Republican lawmakers argued that the requirement would ensure that a woman would be given information about discontinuing drug-induced abortion if she changes her mind. GOP Governor Eric Holcomb signed it in April.
Six states – Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah – have similar requirements, while laws in North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have been blocked by legal challenge, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. A similar law is due to come into effect in West Virginia in July.
The Indiana Attorney General, who is defending the law, said they are reviewing the verdict to determine next steps.
“I continue to work to protect the integrity of life and health of women under the rule of law as my top priority,” Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement.
The office argued that the legislature was acting to “protect the life of the fetus and the health of women”.
“Patients have the right not to take the second pill and to take alternative options to save their pregnancies,” said a court file. “It harms women to deny patients information about alternatives if they want to continue their pregnancy by depriving them of that choice.”
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The lawsuit maintains that doctors who offer abortion drugs and their patients are unjustly singled out. Plaintiffs include Planned Parenthood, which operates abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville, Bloomington, and Lafayette, as well as groups that operate other clinics in Indianapolis and South Bend.
“No other health care provider is required to inform their patients about experimental medical interventions whose safety and effectiveness are not supported by reliable scientific evidence, and no other patients are required to receive such information as a condition of treatment,” the lawsuit said.
Hanlon passed the verdict after holding a June 21 hearing at which Dr. George Delgado, a San Diego area doctor and founder of the abortion pill reversal group, testified that the treatment is safe. He cited “50 to 75 successful reversals” that he directly oversaw.
Hanlon wrote that Indiana officials have an opportunity to post information about the unsettled process on a state Department of Health website that abortion clinics are already required to notify patients about.
44% of the roughly 7,600 abortions performed in Indiana in 2019 were drug abortions, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Health.
The Indiana law is part of a wave of legislation pushed forward in several Republican-led states to further restrict drug abortion and ban telemedical abortions.
Indiana’s lawmakers have enacted numerous abortion restrictions over the past decade, several of which were later blocked by legal challenges.
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Among these challenges, a federal judge ruled in 2019 against the state ban on a joint second-trimester abortion trial, which the law calls “dismemberment abortion”.
The U.S. Supreme Court also dismissed Indiana’s appeal in 2019 against a lower court ruling blocking the state’s ban on abortion based on gender, race, or disability. However, it upheld part of the 2016 law signed by the then government. Mike Pence requested the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.