Planned Parenthood Sues Indiana After New Law Increases Standards Required to Administer Abortion Pill

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Indiana's new law upping the standards for non-surgical abortion clinics. The lawsuit argues that the law unfairly discriminates against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette, while supporters of the law argue it improves women's healthcare in the state.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the state's American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Planned Parenthood against the Indiana State Department of Health and the Tippecanoe County prosecutor. The lawsuit argues that Indiana's new law, which went into effect July 1 "is not only unreasonable, it is utterly irrational," and violates the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The law, entitled Act 371, requires clinics administering the two-pill abortion medication RU-486 to meet surgery center standards, including having separate recovery, procedure, and scrub rooms, as well as wider hallways. The bill was approved by the state's legislature in April and then signed into law by Republican Governor Mike Pence, being praised by supporters as a move to significantly improve healthcare for women.

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However, Planned Parenthood argues that these new requirements would force it to shut down one of its main clinics in Lafayette, which does not perform surgical abortion procedures but rather only administers the RU-486 drug and does not meet the higher healthcare standards being imposed. The abortion provider argues that it is "irrational" to require a clinic to have surgery center standards when no surgical abortions are performed at the location.

Other physicians' offices in the state are exempt from the new law as long as their primary surgical procedure does not relate to abortion and the primary medication they prescribe is not related to abortion. The law also requires clinics to provide information about the dangers of abortion-inducing drugs, and offers women the chance to see their fetus via ultrasound, although Planned Parenthood is not contesting those measures in its lawsuit.

"The additional restrictions in this new law are in no way related to patient safety," Betty Cockrum, Planned Parenthood CEO, said in a statement regarding the law. "This law is clearly part of a coordinated national effort to end access to safe, legal abortion by trying to shut down Planned Parenthood health care centers, which also provide Pap tests, breast and testicular exams, birth control and STD testing and treatment." 

Those supporting the law, including Attorney General Greg Zoeller, argue that the purpose of the law is to improve the healthcare of women.

"We look forward to respectfully asserting the state's case" by defending the law's constitutionality," Zoeller said in a statement Thursday, according to Reuters.

Additionally, Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter told the Associated Press that he believes it was right for the state to enact these new requirements to ensure the utmost healthcare for women: "If Planned Parenthood truly cared about women's health, they would desire all abortion facilities, even facilities they do not operate, to meet a basic standard."

When the bill was passed by the Indiana House in April, Republican state Representative Sharon Negele, who sponsored the bill, argued that its purpose was to safeguard women's health.

"This is a very emotionally charged issue and I want you to understand that from the beginning my intent was to seek out a remedy to safeguard our young women who have chosen this path," Negele said, according to Reuters.

Planned Parenthood operates four out of the 10 abortion clinics in the state. The Lafayette clinic is the only Planned Parenthood-operated facility that does not perform surgical abortions but offers the abortion-inducing pill up to nine weeks of pregnancy; the organization argues that should the Lafayette clinic be forced to stop prescribing the abortion pill, women will have to travel 60 miles to receive the medication. However, others have suggested the facility could simply seek to upgrade its facilities to meet the higher standards.

The lawsuit is seeking a federal court injunction against Act 371. The abortion pill RU-486 is only available via physician-administered prescription.

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