Abortion & Indiana: Seventh Circuit Blocks Parental-Notification Law

A pregnant woman receives an ultrasound. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Late last week, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals blocked an Indiana law that required minors to notify their parents before obtaining an abortion.

The policy was established in 2017 as an amendment to the state’s judicial-bypass process, which enables minors to seek an abortion even without parental consent if a judge determines that abortion is in her “best interests.” The amendment altered that process so that, if a judge did permit a minor to proceed with an abortion without parental consent, her parents would at least be notified of the decision.

In its ruling last week, the Seventh Circuit panel determined that this parental-notification requirement was unconstitutional, weighing the Supreme Court’s previous jurisprudence and deciding that the requirement is a “substantial obstacle” to abortion access.

This decision marks the second time that a Seventh Circuit panel has blocked Indiana’s parental-notification policy; the panel in this case reconsidered its previous decision after the case was remanded by the Supreme Court in light of last summer’s ruling in June Medical v. Russo.

Parental-consent and parental-notification laws have become an important focal point in abortion debates at the state level in recent years, even though there has generally been consensus that such policies are a prudent restriction on abortion. Earlier this year, Massachusetts enacted a broad expansion of legal abortion in the state, including an alteration that would allow 16- and 17-year-old girls to obtain abortions without notifying their parents.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, members of the general assembly are working to repeal the state’s parental-notification requirement, even though a recent poll commissioned by Illinois Right to Life found that nearly three-quarters of state residents want to keep the law as it is.

As Margot Cleveland pointed out yesterday, the split between the judges on the Seventh Circuit panel in last week’s Indiana ruling makes it more likely that the issue will head back to the Supreme Court — especially because the dissenting judge’s opinion revealed that lower-court judges disagree on how the rationale of June Medical should influence rulings on other abortion regulations.

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