INDIANAPOLIS -- A federal appeals court has reinstated an Indiana law adopted in 2016 that requires abortion clinics to either bury or cremate fetal remains.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling released Monday overturns an Indiana judge’s decision in September that the law infringed upon the religious and free speech rights of people who do not believe aborted fetuses deserve the same treatment as deceased people.
The appeals court cited a 2019 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the fetal remains provisions of the law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence and that the state had a legitimate interest in how those remains are disposed.
“Indiana does not require any woman who has obtained an abortion to violate any belief, religious or secular,” the appeals court ruling said. “The cremate-or-bury directive applies only to hospitals and clinics.”
Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature approved an abortion ban law over the summer, but abortions have been allowed to continue after a judge sided with abortion clinic operators who argue the ban violates the state constitution. The state Supreme Court is scheduled in January to hear arguments in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit against the fetal remains law was filed in 2020 on behalf of the Women’s Med Group abortion clinic in Indianapolis, its owner, two nurse practitioners who work at the clinic and three women.
Rupali Sharma, senior counsel at the New York-based Lawyering Project, which is representing the group, said in a statement: “We are currently exploring all options with plaintiffs to ensure abortion patients can get the care they need with the dignity they deserve.”
The group’s lawsuit argued Indiana’s requirements caused both abortion and miscarriage patients “shame, stigma, anguish, and anger” because they “send the unmistakable message that someone who has had an abortion or miscarriage is responsible for the death of a person.”
Republican state Attorney General Todd Rokita praised the court’s ruling as recognizing the fetal remains as more than medical waste.
“They are human beings who deserve the dignity of cremation or burial,” Rokita said in a statement. “The appellate court’s decision is a win for basic decency.”