AG Shapiro Files Brief to Protect Women’s Rights to Safe Abortion Services

August 22, 2019 | Topic: Rights

16 AGs argue Indiana’s application of licensing requirements unconstitutionally denies women access to safe abortion care 

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro today filed an amicus brief in a coalition of 16 attorneys general supporting women’s access to safe reproductive health care. The coalition filed the brief in Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. Hill, which is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The attorneys general argue that, by preventing Whole Woman’s Health Alliance (WWHA) from opening a medication abortion clinic in South Bend, Indiana, state officials are placing an undue burden on women’s ability to access reproductive health care services.

“Women have a right to access quality, safe reproductive health care free from any interference,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “By preventing Whole Woman’s Health Alliance from opening a clinic in South Bend, Indiana state officials are depriving an underserved population of access to this care. As a result, women may be forced to travel far distances to obtain these services, might pursue unsafe procedures, or might delay badly-needed care. I’m proud to stand with my colleague attorneys general in urging the Seventh Circuit to allow WWHA to continue protecting the health and wellbeing of the people of Indiana and beyond.”

State officials denied WWHA’s application for a license to open the clinic in January 2018, claiming that the clinic had not demonstrated itself to be of “reputable and responsible character” because the application did not provide complete and accurate information about affiliated entities operating clinics in other states. WWHA filed suit in June 2018 and sought a preliminary injunction, arguing the state’s licensing requirements, as applied to the South Bend clinic, are overly vague and unconstitutional.

In May 2019, 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 attorneys general argue in their amicus brief that states have an interest in protecting the health and safety of residents, which includes promoting access to safe health care and reproductive health care. 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 attorneys general 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 of access to abortion care, it increases the public health risk for pregnant women. Currently, there are six abortion clinics in the state of Indiana, and half are located in Indianapolis. According to WWHA, because women in South Bend and the surrounding community do not have access to an abortion clinic, they are forced to travel significant distances to receive safe abortion care in their home state or in a neighboring state.

The attorneys general also emphasize 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 to obtain abortions. In short, the coalition argues, the repercussions of Indiana’s actions are not limited to Indiana or the women who live there.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

The coalition, which was led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, also includes attorneys general from the California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

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