Indiana Court Gives Win To Group Arguing Religious Freedom Grants Them Right To Abortion

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INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2022/07/25: Abortion-rights protesters leave a drawing of the state of Indiana during the demonstration. As the legislature is holding a special session to consider curtailing a... INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA, UNITED STATES - 2022/07/25: Abortion-rights protesters leave a drawing of the state of Indiana during the demonstration. As the legislature is holding a special session to consider curtailing abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade last month, abortion rights activists protested in Indianapolis. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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An Indiana appeals court Thursday upheld an injunction for plaintiffs arguing that their religious beliefs entitle them to an exemption from the state’s near-total abortion ban. 

A few individuals and Hoosier Jews for Choice said that they believe that life does not begin at conception and that the life of the pregnant woman outweighs the “potential for life embodied in a fetus.” 

The argument turns one of the anti-abortion movement’s most reliable talking points on its head and takes the mantle of “religious conviction” from conservative Christians, who have wielded it so successfully, both in courts of law and public opinion. 

“If a corporation can engage in a religious exercise by refusing to provide abortifacients — contraceptives that essentially abort a pregnancy after fertilization — it stands to reason that a pregnant person can engage in a religious exercise by pursuing an abortion,” wrote Judge Leanna Weissmann for the Court of Appeals of Indiana. “In both situations, the claimant is required to take or abstain from action that the claimant’s sincere religious beliefs direct. And in both situations, the claimant’s objection to the challenged law or regulation is rooted in the claimant’s sincere religious beliefs.”

Weissmann also pointed out that the exemption plaintiffs seek aligns with the (scant) exemptions included in the abortion ban. 

“The broader religious exemption that Plaintiffs effectively seek has the same foundation as the narrower exceptions already existing in the Abortion Law: all are based on the interests of the mother outweighing the interests of the zygote, embryo, or fetus,” she wrote. “The religious exemption that Plaintiffs seek, based on their sincere religious beliefs, merely expands the circumstances in which the pregnant woman’s health dictates an abortion.”

The group also sought class action status for “all persons in Indiana whose religious beliefs direct them to obtain abortions.” 

The majority ultimately upheld an injunction blocking the abortion ban for the plaintiffs, but sent the case back down to the trial court to narrow it; the state complained that the injunction would allow plaintiffs to get abortions that aren’t dictated by their religious beliefs. 

In his concurrence, Judge Mark Bailey was even more explicit about how Indiana lawmakers have favored the conservative Christian viewpoint on abortion in their post-Dobbs legislation. 

“Yet in this post-Dobbs world, our Legislature has done just that – preferred one creed over another,” he wrote. “Based upon the premise that the State has a compelling interest in the outcome of a woman’s pregnancy arising at the very moment of conception, there is a codification of when life begins, something intensely debated among adherents to various religions.” 

He cracked that lawmakers are ill-equipped to decide a question still confounding theologians. 

“Legislators, an overwhelming majority of whom have not experienced childbirth, nevertheless dictate that virtually all pregnancies in this State must proceed to birth notwithstanding the onerous burden upon women and girls,” he wrote. “They have done so not based upon science or viability but upon a blanket assertion that they are the protectors of ‘life’ from the moment of conception.”

“The least that can be expected is that the remaining Hoosiers of child bearing ability will be given the opportunity to act in accordance with their own consciences and religious creeds,” he concluded.

Read the ruling here.

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