The topic of abortion is seeing renewed interest as a slew of state laws and cases shake out around the country and the fate of health care remains uncertain. But at a time when the country at large is facing big questions about the issue, one ruling by Judge Ilana Rovner in particular gets to the underlying matter of what it means to have the right to choose. Judge Rovner's ruling on Indiana's abortion ultrasound law is one worth reading.
Writing for the U.S.' 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in her July 26 decision, Rovner wrote, "Women, like all humans, are intellectual creatures with the ability to reason, consider, ponder, and challenge their own ideas and those of others."
Rovner was one of three judges to hear the case, which was brought initially in 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Planned Parenthood's Indiana and Kentucky branch (PPINK). PPINK successfully challenged and got an injunction for Indiana law HEA 1337. The law required women to both view and listen to the fetal heartbeat with an ultrasound performed 18 hours ahead of time in a separate appointment. In agreement with the lower court, Rovner upheld that the law was unconstitutional, placing an undue burden on both patients and care facilities.
The ultrasound requirement, the court found, put up barriers on a woman's access to the procedure. Facilites that can accommodate both ultrasounds and abortions, like PPINK, are few and far between, and don't have unlimited resources. As such, patients would have to drive excessively distances and potentially take additional time off work to get a second appointment. Ultrasounds are also costly, a fact that would disproportionally burden low-income patients and those who choose not to carry a pregnancy to term because of financial constraints.
Indiana's abortion laws, Rovner notes, have generally been based on a woman's assumed emotional and psychological state, aiming to steer her away from the procedure of her own accord. For example, women had to receive mandatory, state-controlled materials about pregnancies and abortions before they could get one. Adding to this, the ultrasound requirement was designed to cause a woman to second-guess her decision, Rovner writes. The 18-window, "The State hopes, she will use her time to reflect upon her choice and choose to continue her pregnancy."
Rovner argues the State is entitled to take any position it wished on the matter, and to "use the information that it provides to persuade women not to have an abortion," but at the end of the day, women still have the right to pursue such a procedure. And unlike simply handing out a brochure, the ultrasound requirement, she added, "places a large barrier to access without any evidence that it serves the intended goal of persuading women to carry a pregnancy to term."
Rovner's reasoning defended the decision-making capabilities of women patients even when faced with a critical choice. "A woman visiting PPINK to have an abortion knows her diagnosis (she is pregnant), as well as her options," Rovner notes. "Moreover, the law already requires that she be informed of her options and wait eighteen hours until the procedure. The only issue is whether having the ultrasound eighteen hours before alters the calculus."
Rovner also addressed an oft-cited claim that women would undergo additional emotional or mental distress by deciding to abort. Citing evidence by the American Psychological Association, she wrote, "The relative risks of mental health problems are not greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy."
She added that women aren't faced with the same hoop-jumping requirements to obtain other medical procedures, particularly urgent ones. "[A]bortions are far more time sensitive than most other elective procedures," she wrote.
In other words, it seems that at the heart of laws like this one is an underlying assumption about whether a woman seeking an abortion knows what she's in for; Rovnver, in her ruling, seems to call foul on that assumption.
More than being a legal win, Planned Parenthood applauded Rovner's ruling as significant given the context of reproductive rights in the nation today. While numerous abortion-related cases have been shaking out around the country, many advocates fear that the nomination of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will overturn Roe v. Wade if confirmed, thus upending the fundamental right to an abortion.
"This ruling underscores what's at stake for women nationwide with Trump's nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court," said PPFA Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens in a statement obtained by Elite Daily. "A woman's constitutional right to abortion is on the line. In many states like Indiana, the courts are the last line of defense to protect people's rights and freedoms. ... We cannot allow our children and grandchildren to have fewer rights than we do."
So rulings like Rovner's, that defer to Roe, are a big deal for that alone. But Rovner's position seems to tackle the heart of the matter at a time when the conversation around abortion, and what it means to choose, are on the minds of many women nationwide.