INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Supreme Court will not hear a direct appeal of a lawsuit that used the state’s religious freedom law to challenge the near-total abortion ban passed last year.
The decision, filed Monday afternoon, means the case will go through the typical appeals process and head to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
“The Court has considered Appellants’ motion and has determined that it should be, and therefore is, DENIED. Jurisdiction, to the extent it exists in this matter, remains with the Court of Appeals,” according to a Jan. 30 order signed by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who noted that all justices concurred with the decision.
Indiana’s newly passed abortion law prohibits all abortions except in cases or rape or incest up to 10 weeks or pregnancy, when pregnancy poses a risk to the life or health of the mother or in cases involving fatal fetal anomalies.
In December, a Marion County judge issued a preliminary injunction against the abortion law after plaintiffs argued it “substantially burdens” their ability to exercise their religion, violating Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The law, passed in 2015, states that the government cannot substantially burden someone’s religious exercise unless the there is a compelling government interest that is being advanced in the least restrictive way possible.
Plaintiffs in the case include five anonymous women and Hoosier Jews for Choice. That latter group believes that Jewish law states life does not begin at conception and the fetus is considered part of a woman’s body until the moment of birth.
In a December 2022 ruling, Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch ruled the plaintiffs were “reasonably likely to prevail” on their claims that the abortion law violates RFRA.
The injunction marked the second one involving a legal challenge to Indiana’s new abortion law. A separate lawsuit challenging the law on constitutional grounds was appealed directly to the Indiana Supreme Court, which took up the case and held arguments earlier this month.
The Jan. 19 hearing lasted about 70 minutes, with five justices posing questions to attorneys representing both sides of the issue. The state’s highest court did not give a timeline on a ruling.