An Indianapolis abortion clinic is asking a federal court to strike down an Indiana law that requires the remains of unborn babies to be buried or cremated.
At issue is a 2016 law, HB 1337, that requires aborted babies to be “interred or cremated.” Then-Gov. Mike Pence signed it.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are an abortion clinic and two nurses, as well as three unidentified women who obtained abortions at approximately six weeks into their pregnancies.
“These laws … send the unmistakable message that someone who has had an abortion or miscarriage is responsible for the death of a person,” the lawsuit says. “... As a result, they have caused many abortion and miscarriage patients, including Jane Doe Nos. 1, 2, and 3, to experience shame, stigma, anguish, and anger.”
The clinic, Women’s Med Group, is storing the fetal remains from the three women. If they win, the clinic will “dispose of the tissue by incineration followed by placement in a sanitary landfill,” the lawsuit says.
The law, the suit says, violates “fundamental tenets” of the First and Fourteenth Amendments by “compelling abortion and miscarriage patients – and their healthcare providers – to act in accordance with the State’s view of personhood – namely, that an embryo is the ontological and spiritual equivalent of a person – regardless of their own opinions about the status of developing human life.”
“Indiana’s effort to create orthodoxy on a deeply polarizing issue that implicates the most profound aspects of religion, culture, and ideology is constitutionally prohibited,” the suit says.
But the plaintiffs may face an uphill battle. The U.S. Supreme Court last year reversed a lower court and upheld the law. The decision came in an unsigned order without hearing oral arguments.
“This Court has already acknowledged that a State has a ‘legitimate interest in proper disposal of fetal remains,’” the court ruled, pointing to a 1983 decision, Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc. “... The Seventh Circuit clearly erred in failing to recognize that interest as a permissible basis for Indiana’s disposition law.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the high court left the door open for another challenge.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said he would defend the law.
“We took our fight for Indiana’s law on the disposition of fetal remains all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we won,” Hill said, according to the Associated Press. “We are now reviewing this latest lawsuit, but I can tell you now that we will once again defend humanity, and I am quite confident that Indiana’s law will continue to stand strong.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.