A new Indiana mandate that women undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before they have an abortion is unconstitutional and will prevent some women from getting abortions, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday contends.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky argue in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis that the provision which took effect July 1 as part of a new law places "an undue burden" on women's constitutional right to seek an abortion.
The complaint, which seeks a preliminary injunction to block the ultrasound requirement, contends the new ultrasound provision will force many women "to make two lengthy trips to obtain an abortion or pay for an overnight stay."
Most women seeking abortions at Planned Parenthood's clinics are low-income and cannot freely travel or afford to take time off from work, the suit says.
It also argues that Planned Parenthood's few clinics with ultrasound equipment will become more crowded as women flock to them to get ultrasounds, delaying abortions and preventing some women from ending their pregnancies.
The requirement that women undergo ultrasounds at least 18 hours before having an abortion replaces a previous Indiana provision that required women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion but did not specify when that had to occur.
Planned Parenthood had performed those ultrasounds on women immediately prior to their abortions, the suit says.
Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana's legal director, said the new provision "provides no health benefit to women and serves only to place a substantial obstacle to obtaining an abortion."
Indiana law allows women to opt out of the ultrasound if they sign a form saying they either don't want to see the fetus' image or hear its heartbeat.
The 18-hour ultrasound requirement is one provision of a wide-ranging abortion restrictions measure Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law in March.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood also sued the state over two of that law's other measures and a federal judge temporarily blocked both last week, finding that Indiana does not have the authority to limit a woman's reasons for ending a pregnancy.
Those provisions would have banned abortions sought because of a fetus' genetic abnormalities, race, gender or ancestry, and required that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated.
Falk said the new lawsuit was filed in large part because the U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down a Texas law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards. He said that decision focusing on the need for states to have a justification for abortion restrictions "makes the unconstitutionality of this law much more apparent."
He also said Planned Parenthood's clinics are already seeing "backups and problems" as women seek ultrasounds a day or more in advance of their planned abortions.
Indiana's attorney general's office, which represents the state in legal challenges, said in a statement that it would review the new challenge "with our client and will file a response in federal court at the appropriate time."
The suit names as defendants Indiana's state health commissioner and the prosecutors of Marion, Lake, Monroe and Tippecanoe counties — where Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville, Bloomington and Lafayette.
The nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion, says Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Dakota have the nation's most sweeping abortion limits.
Indiana's new ultrasound requirement "adds no value in a state already fraught with difficult and unnecessary regulations regarding a truly safe and legal procedure," Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement.