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Federal judge blocks Indiana's second-trimester abortion ban

Lawsuit filed against Georgia abortion law

A federal judge on Friday blocked an Indiana law that would have made it a felony for doctors to second-trimester abortions. The law was set to go into effect on July 1. Judge Sarah Evans Baker, who was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan, granted the preliminary injunction temporarily preventing the law from being enacted.

Her decision came just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case defending a similar law in Alabama. 

The GOP-led Indiana legislature passed the law in April. Under the law, doctors who perform dilation and evacuation abortions could face felony charges with penalties of up to six years in prison. The law referred to the procedure as "dismemberment abortion." 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana sued the state on behalf of two doctors. ACLU attorneys argued that the ban would put a "substantial and unwarranted burden on women's ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability abortions."

Indiana's attorneys called the procedure "brutal and inhumane" and maintained the state had a valid role in limiting types of abortion procedures, citing a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a federal law banning the method anti-abortion activists refer to as partial-birth abortion. 

During a hearing this month, Barker questioned why the state would force women seeking a second-trimester abortion to undergo "highly risky" alternative procedures, such as prematurely inducing labor or injecting fatal drugs into the fetus. 

Earlier this month, the judge allowed an abortion clinic to open in South Bend after the Indiana State Department of Health had denied the operator a clinic license, saying it had not provided requested safety documentation.

Federal courts have blocked similar laws in several states, including in Kentucky and Ohio this spring, but Indiana abortion opponents were hopeful an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court could eventually uphold such bans. 

The Indiana measure, signed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, would make it illegal for doctors to use medical instruments such as clamps, forceps and scissors to remove a fetus from the womb except to save the pregnant woman's life or prevent serious health risk. 

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said legislators wanted the ban "because they think the procedure is unethical." 

Indiana lawmakers didn't go as far as those in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, where bills were enacted barring abortion once there's a detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri's governor signed a bill approving an eight-week ban on abortion, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. Alabama outlawed virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. Those bans haven't taken effect and all are expected to face legal challenges. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in May rejected Indiana's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the state's ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. The court, however, upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion. 

The dilation and evacuation procedure accounted for 27 of the 7,778 abortions performed in Indiana during 2017, amounting to 0.35 percent, according to an Indiana State Department of Health report. 

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