Federal appeals court upholds Indiana law mandating reporting of abortion complications
© WikiMedia (Charlotte Cooper)
Federal appeals court upholds Indiana law mandating reporting of abortion complications

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Monday upheld an Indiana law requiring medical providers to report complications “arising from” abortions to the state.

The law requires doctors or other medical providers to report any one of a list of 25 “abortion complications,” including incidents such as uterine perforation, cervical laceration, shock, cardiac arrest and preterm delivery in subsequent pregnancies, to the state. Failure to comply with the law is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and $1,000 in fines.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky filed a complaint arguing that the law is unconstitutionally vague. The US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana agreed and issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court reversed the lower court decision in a 2-1 split. Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Amy St. Eve acknowledged the ambiguity of the so-called “Complications Statute,” in several areas, including the causal relationship between the abortion and the complication and a lack of objective standards to help doctors make that determination.

However, Judge St. Eve noted that this case is a pre-enforcement challenge as opposed to a challenge on the merits and that the state agency in charge of the statute has not yet released any guidance on its application; nor has any state court interpreted the law. Because of the procedural posture of the lawsuit, the court concluded that “the Statute must survive Planned Parenthood’s pre-enforcement, facial attack.”

Judge Diane Wood dissented and stating that the statute is seriously flawed in that it does not specify the extent to which any of the twenty-five listed complications must be caused by the abortion itself. Judge Wood also noted that “Not a single condition on the state’s list is unique to abortions, and so a medical-care provider will have no idea whether or not he or she has a reporting obligation.”

The dissent further stated that the statute lacks temporal limitations, lacks an intent requirement on the part of mandatory reporters and additionally lacks a but-for causal standard, and therefore “cannot be enforced consistently with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”