Vice President Mike Pence may now live thousands of miles away from Indiana, but his home state is still reckoning with his legacy.
On Friday, a federal judge blocked an Indiana law requiring women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound at least 18 hours before they undergo the procedure. The state failed to present “any convincing evidence” that the law did what the state said it did: preserve fetal life and women’s mental health by convincing them not to have an abortion, found U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.
Pence signed the law, which had been in effect since July 2016, when he was still Indiana’s governor. It mandated that women in the state visit their abortion provider at least twice — once for an ultrasound and in-person counseling with state-mandated information about abortions, and once to obtain the abortion itself.
In a 53-page ruling, Pratt found that the state failed to prove that making women view their ultrasounds — let alone making them view it 18 hours before undergoing an abortion — made them rethink their decision to get an abortion.
Pratt said that Indiana also failed to justify mandating that women make two separate trips to abortion clinics. For low-income women already struggling with the prospect of paying for an expensive abortion, Pratt wrote, forcing them to also pay for travel, lost wages, and possible child care was just too much.
The Indiana law kept at least nine women from getting an abortion because they couldn’t afford to make two trips to the clinic, including a woman who couldn’t leave her special needs children that often, according to the lawsuit.
“The burdens it creates on women seeking to terminate their pregnancies — which are significant even if not overwhelming — dramatically outweigh the benefits, making the burdens undue and the new ultrasound law likely unconstitutional,” Pratt wrote.
Indiana is far from the only state to have such a requirement. Thirteen other states also require women go to in-person abortion counseling hours or days before actually getting an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some 26 states also have regulations controlling ultrasounds and abortions, and three require that an ultrasound be performed at least 24 hours before an abortion.
But this ruling may signal a change in how courts approach those laws. Thanks to Whole Woman’s Health, a landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down Texas abortion regulations, states now have to prove that their restrictions actually do what they say they do.
“There may be more of these laws that get struck down,” explained Elizabeth Nash, a Guttmacher Institute senior state issues manager. “Because oftentimes all we get from the state is an assertion that the law protects women’s health and the law protects fetal health. And there isn’t much in the way of evidence that these laws are necessary or even achieve their stated goals.”
Still, few states have faced legal battles over ultrasound and abortion counseling provisions, and there are only so many attorneys who can fight the myriad abortion regulations across the country. “It might be that [lawyers] may see these as real burdens and barriers, but they might not have the bandwidth to challenge all of them,” Nash said.