Attorney General fights to protect women’s access to safe abortion services

Attorney General Letitia James

Indiana’s unconstitutional crackdown on abortions part of broader war on reproductive freedom

Attorney General Letitia James, along with 15 additional attorneys general from around the nation, is fighting to support women’s access to safe reproductive health care. By filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance — which is attempting to open a medical abortion clinic in South Bend, Ind. — the coalition is arguing that states have an interest in protecting the health and safety of their residents, which includes promoting access to safe, reproductive health care.

James said the move by the state of Indiana is part of a broader war on reproductive freedom happening across the nation, including restrictive and prohibitive laws on abortions that have passed in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio.

“No person, no business and absolutely no government entity has the right to deny a woman access to a safe and legal abortion,” said James. “Access to reproductive health care is a fundamental right, and despite this crusade against women’s reproductive freedoms, we will never stop fighting for reproductive justice. No matter what anyone may say, this is about freedom of one’s body, freedom of one’s beliefs, and freedom of choice.”

WHA filed a lawsuit against Indiana state officials — in Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. Hill — after the state denied WWHA’s application for a license to open a clinic that would provide medical abortions in South Bend. While aspiration or surgical abortions can include a local anesthetic and requires a medical professional to use suction tools, medical abortions are non-invasive and do not require any kind of surgery. Instead, in a medical abortion, a woman is instructed to take a series of pills to bring about an abortion.

The state denied WWHA’s license, claiming the application did not provide complete and accurate information about affiliated entities operating clinics in other states. WWHA filed suit and sought a preliminary injunction, arguing the state’s licensing requirements — as applied to the South Bend clinic — are overly vague and unconstitutional. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana entered a preliminary injunction requiring Indiana to allow WWHA to open the clinic, ruling that WWHA was likely to prove that the state’s application of the regulatory process in the case was unconstitutional because it placed undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose to have an abortion. The case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The coalition of Attorneys General are today pointing out that states have a strong interest in ensuring that abortion care, like all other health care services, is provided safely to women across each state. States’ interest in public health is best served when their licensing and regulatory processes are applied to protect the health and safety of patients, rather than to deny women access to safe abortion services. The coalition goes on to argue that preventing a clinic from operating in an underserved area may cause women to seek abortions from wholly unregulated sources or to undergo more risky procedures because they are forced to delay care.

Furthermore, the coalition argues when a state enforces its licensing regulations in a manner that deprives an underserved population access to abortion care, it increases the public health risk for pregnant women. Currently, there are only six abortion clinics in the State of Indiana, and half are located in one city — Indianapolis. According to WWHA, because women in South Bend and the surrounding communities do not have access to a nearby abortion clinic, they are forced to travel significant distances to receive safe abortion care in their home state or even in a neighboring state.

The coalition also points out that when women are forced to travel to other states to access care due to their home state’s unlawful conduct, it may strain health care systems in those neighboring states. Evidence shows that women from Indiana regularly travel to Chicago, Illinois to obtain abortions. Finally, the Attorneys General argue that the repercussions of Indiana’s actions are not limited to Indiana or the women who live there.

In March 2019, Attorney General James led a coalition of 21 states in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s regulations that threaten essential services provided under federal Title X funding. The rule — also known as the “gag rule” — places an unlawful and unethical restriction on health care providers’ ability to fully inform patients of the reproductive health services available to them by disallowing referrals for abortions and counseling related to abortions. Another provision would require those who perform abortions to physically segregate their services — an expensive and potentially impossible requirement.

Joining James in filing the brief are the attorneys general of the California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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