Defendants in Indiana Parental Abortion Notification Statute Suit Seek Another SCOTUS Hearing

For the second time, the state defendants in a case challenging a 2017 Indiana statute requiring that parents of a minor granted judicial bypass for an abortion be notified before the procedure are petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to review the constitutionality of the state’s parental-notification statute.

This case already has reached the Supreme Court once before, after passing through the district and appellate courts, which decided in favor of plaintiff Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. Accordingly, the defendants, led by Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Kristina Box, are seeking Supreme Court judgment once again, claiming that they have run out of “meaningful lower-court options” to defend its statute provision that, according to the petitioners, was never given a chance at enforcement before it was challenged.

Planned Parenthood’s challenge reasoned that for the parental-notification statute to be constitutional, there must be an exemption for minors deemed “sufficiently mature to make her own abortion decision” by the court issuing the judicial bypass, the petition explained. After a district denial and no success on appeal to the Seventh Circuit, the defendants requested a rehearing en banc, which the appellate court denied because of its belief that only SCOTUS could adjudicate on the meaning of the “undue burden standard,” which is meant to test whether statutes impose any “substantial obstacle” on those seeking abortions, the petition said.

“Only the Justices, the proprietors of the undue-burden standard, can apply it to a new category of statute,” according to the Seventh Circuit en banc denial.

Prompted by this ruling, the defendants petitioned the Supreme Corut, which vacated and remanded the matter back to the Seventh Circuit — which, again, ruled in favor of the plaintiff March 12.

Since the circuit court “has seemingly thrown up its hands in frustration with abortion doctrine,” the petitioners said, they now pose a question for the high court: “When a court permits an unemancipated minor to have an abortion, may the State require that her parents be notified before the abortion occurs except where such notice would contravene her best interests?”

In their petition, the state actors argued that their parental-notification statute would provide parents an opportunity “to carry out their rightful parentful roles and responsibilities” through the ability for parents to access “critical aspects of their daughter’s medical history” and “put them on notice that perhaps they should pay more care to their daughter’s sexual relationships.”

In addition to defending what they believe to be the merits of the statute, the petitioners contended that the lower courts’ judgments rendering the statute unenforceable mean that no evidence can exist for whether the statute imposes a substantial obstacle for minors seeking abortions. The petitioners also claimed that among the district and circuit judgments were mixed invocations of different case law that the Supreme Court ought to clarify.

The petitioners are represented by government counsel. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky Inc. is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.