A Marion County judge Friday issued an injunction against Indiana’s near-total abortion ban, this time as part of a lawsuit alleging the ban violates protections of religious freedom.
Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch granted a motion to temporarily block the state’s new abortion law because it “substantially impedes” the religious practice of five Hoosier women whose beliefs allow abortions under conditions not permitted under the ban’s narrow exceptions are.
It is the second time the state ban on abortion has been temporarily blocked since Gov. Eric Holcomb enacted it in August. Another injunction was granted in September as part of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood alleging the abortion ban violates rights protected by the Indiana Constitution, such as the right to privacy. The Indiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in January.
In the new injunction, issued Friday, Welch noted that the women who filed the lawsuit “are likely to prevail” if they claim the new law violates Indiana’s Restoration of Religious Freedom Act.
The Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, also known as RFRA, prevents the government from impeding someone’s religious practice unless there is a strong case for the state’s interest and that interest is advanced in the least restrictive manner. The law was signed by the then governor. Mike Pence in 2015.
The five women taking part in the lawsuit challenging the new abortion law practice Judaism, Islam, Unitarian universalism, Episcopalianism or paganism. They are seeking class action status and are being joined as plaintiffs by the Hoosier Jews for Choice group. The ACLU from Indiana represents the women.
The defendants in this case include members of the Indiana Medical Licensing Board and prosecutors in five counties that provide abortion services, including Marion, Monroe and St. Joseph counties.
More:Indiana’s new abortion law violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the lawsuit alleges
Indiana’s abortion ban prohibits abortions up to 10 weeks gestation except in the case of rape or incest, when pregnancy poses a risk to the life or long-term health of the mother, or in the case of fatal fetal abnormalities.
The lawsuit argues that the belief that life begins at conception, widely shared by Christian anti-abortion activists, “is not a theological opinion shared by all religions or all religious persons.”
“For example, under Jewish law, a fetus does not acquire living person status until birth,” the lawsuit reads. “Jewish law recognizes that abortion can and should take place as a religious matter in circumstances not permitted by (the near-total ban on abortion) or existing Indiana law.” This includes when an abortion could prevent a mother’s “mental anguish” due to serious physical or mental health problems.
Prosecutors had argued that the women behind the lawsuit failed to show that the abortion ban placed a significant strain on their practice of religion and that the lawsuit was premature because the women are not currently seeking abortions.
In granting the injunction Friday, Welch wrote that “undisputed evidence based on actual facts shows that the plaintiffs are suffering injuries and changing their behavior at this time solely because of” the state’s new abortion law.
Three of the women “are not currently trying to conceive if they would — without the law — do it,” Welch wrote. Another woman “is currently teetotal when otherwise she wouldn’t be.” And one of the other plaintiffs “severely decreased her sexual intimacy with her husband and had to take birth control measures that she otherwise would not.”
“Plaintiffs are all suffering actual and present damages,” Welch wrote.
In response to the ruling, Indiana ACLU legal director Ken Falk said in an emailed statement that the new injunction “serves as a second layer of protection, ensuring Hoosiers’ rights based on religious freedom.”
“This decision represents another crucial victory for access to abortion,” he said, “and we will continue to fight this ban until it is finally blocked.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s office, which represents the state, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
IndyStar court reporter Johnny Magdaleno contributed to this story.