A federal judge blocked an Indiana law Thursday that would have banned abortions sought because of a fetus' genetic abnormalities, saying that the state does not have the authority to limit a woman's reasons for ending a pregnancy.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted a preliminary injunction requested by Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which argued that the law was unconstitutional and violated women's privacy rights. The law was set to take effect Friday.
North Dakota is the only other state that prohibits abortions because of genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome or because of the race, gender or ancestry of a fetus.
Pratt said the Indiana law would go against U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have declared states may not prohibit a woman from seeking an abortion before a fetus is able to live outside the womb. She also said the state had not cited any exceptions to that standard.
"This is unsurprising given that it is a woman's right to choose an abortion that is protected, which, of course, leaves no room for the state to examine the basis or bases upon which a woman makes her choice," Pratt wrote.
The judge's action, which is temporary, arose from a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. That case can still proceed.
The lawsuit also challenges the law's provision requiring that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated. Planned Parenthood currently disposes of remains by incineration, as with other medical tissue. Pratt's ruling blocks the burial or cremation requirement from taking effect.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed the law in March after it was approved by Indiana's GOP-dominated Legislature. The measure was approved despite objections from many female legislators, including Republicans, who said it went too far.
The lawsuit was filed in April, and Pratt heard arguments from both sides on June 14. During that hearing, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued that Indiana's law was a response to DNA testing advances that permit fetuses to be screened for genetic defects or to determine their gender. He said the state has an interest in "preventing discrimination" against fetuses based on such test results.
Pence, a prominent abortion-rights opponent while serving in Congress before being elected governor in 2012, "remains steadfast in his support for the unborn, especially those with disabilities," spokeswoman Kara Brooks said in a statement.
"The governor will continue to stand for the sanctity of human life in all stages, for the compassionate and safe treatment of women faced with an enormously difficult decision, and for the rights of citizens to determine appropriate medical safety standards and procedures through their elected representatives," she said.
A prominent Indiana anti-abortion group urged the state to appeal Pratt's decision.
"Today a federal judge denied the civil rights of unborn children, then proceeded to equate aborted children to common medical waste by blocking dignified disposal," Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said. "This ruling is an appalling human rights injustice."
The state attorney general's office said it would review Pratt's decision before deciding how to proceed.
Micah Clark, executive director of the anti-abortion America Family Association of Indiana, said he wasn't entirely surprised by the judge's ruling. Unlike other laws that set parameters on how abortions can be performed, Indiana's law would have banned abortions sought for certain reasons, he said.
"We knew we were probably pushing the envelope a little bit, but felt like we were on good legal grounds," Clark said.
Ken Falk, legal director for Indiana's ACLU chapter, said he was confident the law will be found unconstitutional if the state continues its fight in court.
Pratt, who was nominated as a judge by President Barack Obama in 2010, blocked an Indiana law from taking effect in June 2011 that would have prohibited entities that perform abortions from obtaining state funding. Her order became permanent in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Indiana's appeal in the case.
Indiana University has filed a separate federal lawsuit challenging a section of the new law making it a crime to sell or acquire fetal issue. The school argues the provision would illegally interfere with research by its scientists. Attorneys for IU and the state have agreed to put enforcement on hold until the university's challenge is resolved.
North Dakota's Republican-led Legislature passed a measure in 2013 that blocks abortions based on unwanted gender or a genetic defect. The state's sole abortion clinic, the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, has said the ban doesn't affect it in part because most genetic abnormalities are not detected until after 16 weeks into a pregnancy, when the clinic stops providing abortions.