Whole Woman's Health Alliance v. Hill

Decision Date31 May 2019
Docket NumberNo. 1:18-cv-01904-SEB-MJD,1:18-cv-01904-SEB-MJD
Citation388 F.Supp.3d 1010
Parties WHOLE WOMAN'S HEALTH ALLIANCE, et al. Plaintiffs, v. Curtis T. HILL, Jr. Attorney General of the State of Indiana, in his official capacity, et al. Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

Amanda Lauren Allen, Pro Hac Vice, David Patrick Brown, Pro Hac Vice, Juanluis Rodriguez, Pro Hac Vice, Stephanie Toti, Lawyering Project, Bradley H. Honigman, Erin A. Simmons, Michael M. Powell, Pro Hac Vice, Paul M. Eckles, Pro Hac Vice, Attorney at Law, Mollie M. Kornreich, Pro Hac Vice, New York, NY, Dipti Singh, Lawyering Project, Los Angeles, CA, Rupali Sharma, Lawyering Project, Portland, ME, Kathrine D. Jack, Law Office of Kathrine Jack, Greenfield, IN, for Plaintiffs.

Christopher Michael Anderson, Diana Lynn Moers Davis, Jennifer Elizabeth Lemmon, Kelly Suzanne Thompson, Thomas M. Fisher, Julia Catherine Payne, Indiana Office of the Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants.

SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE, United States District Court

Plaintiff Whole Woman's Health Alliance (WWHA) applied to the Indiana State Department of Health ("the Department") and its commissioner Kristina Box, Defendant here in her official capacity, for a license to operate an abortion clinic in South Bend, Indiana ("the South Bend Clinic"). The Department initially denied WHHA's application. WWHA applied again but abandoned its effort when it came to perceive its second application was futile.

Now before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining the Department's implementation of the licensing requirement as to the South Bend Clinic. Dkt. 76. For the reasons given below, the motion is granted.


We begin with (I) an overview of the abortion procedure to be offered at the South Bend Clinic and (II) a review of the availability of abortions generally to women in and around South Bend. We next (III) review Indiana's history of abortion regulation and specifically (IV) its licensure requirements. We conclude (V) by summarizing the administrative proceedings on WWHA's license applications and (VI) by setting forth a discussion as to the posture of the instant motion.

I. Medical Abortions

As one researcher has noted, "in the United States, nearly half of [all] pregnancies are unintended, and 22% of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in termination." Defs.' Ex. 6, at 1.1 Medical (or medication) abortions, as opposed to surgical abortions, are performed by the administration of a chemical abortifacient or combination of them. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), most medical abortions in the United States today are performed by administering the drug mifepristone

in conjunction with the drug misoprostol. Defs.' Ex. 8, at 1–2. Both are dispensed in pill form. WWHA proposes to provide medical abortions using this regimen at the South Bend Clinic; it does not intend to provide surgical abortions at that location. Pls.' Ex. 10, at 32.

Mifepristone, also known by the brand name Mifeprex or the developer's code RU 486, was first developed in the early 1980s and made publicly available in 1988 after the French Minister of Health, declaring it "the moral property of women, not just the property of the drug company," ordered its developer to begin marketing it in France. Steven Greenhouse, France Ordering Company to Sell Its Abortion Drug , N.Y. Times, Oct. 29, 1988, at A1.

It was first approved for marketing in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000 for use with misoprostol

, also known by the brand name Cytotec. Defs.' Ex. 16, at 1; Pls.' Ex. 1, at 4. In addition to their use as abortifacients, mifepristone and misoprostol are also used together in the treatment of incomplete or difficult miscarriages. Courtney A. Schreiber et al. , Mifepristone Pretreatment for the Medical Management of Early Pregnancy Loss , 378 New Eng. J. Med. 2161 (2018). Mifepristone is among the small number of drugs FDA subjects to a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), which among other things prohibits mifepristone from being dispensed in pharmacies; it is available to patients only directly from physicians who have executed supplier agreements with the drug's U.S. licensee. Defs.' Ex. 16, at 1. But for the REMS, mifepristone would be available by prescription.

Today, the FDA-approved abortifacient regimen provides for administration of the two drugs through 70 days of fetal gestation, as measured by the number of days from the patient's last menstrual period (LMP). Defs.' Ex. 16, at 1. (The current FDA-approved regimen was adopted in 2016. The originally approved regimen was found by clinicians and researchers to be suboptimal; an "evidence-based regimen" was developed in response. In 2016, FDA approved a new label for mifepristone

incorporating the "evidence-based regimen." See Defs.' Ex. 16, at 1; Pls.' Ex. 1, at 4–5.) The patient first takes a dose of mifepristone orally. The mifepristone blocks the further growth and development of the fetus. Between 24 to 48 hours later, she takes a dose of misoprostol buccally "at a location appropriate for the patient." Defs.' Ex. 16, at 1. Often this location is the patient's home. See Pls.' Ex. 1, at 6. The misoprostol causes the uterus to contract and expel its contents in a process "resembl[ing] a miscarriage[.]" Id. "If there were a major complication associated with a medication abortion, it would occur after the patient left the abortion facility since the medications take time to exert their effects." Id. at 8.

Fewer than 5 percent of patients remain pregnant following a medical abortion; fewer than 1 percent remain pregnant following a medical abortion within 63 days LMP. Defs.' Ex. 8, at 5; Pls.' Ex. 1, at 6. Patients with "a persistent gestational sac" one week after receiving mifepristone

may be treated by an additional dose of misoprostol, by surgical intervention, or may not require any additional intervention. Defs.' Ex. 8, at 5. ACOG recommends that medical abortion providers either be trained to perform surgical abortions as needed or else be able to refer a patient to a clinician who is. Id.

"Bleeding and cramping will be experienced by most women undergoing medical abortion and are necessary for the process to occur." Id. at 3. Other common adverse effects include "nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and thermoregulatory effects." Id. Abortion generally has a low risk of fatal and nonfatal complications. The risk of death is lower than that from a penicillin

injection, as well as that from childbirth. Pls.' Ex. 1, at 3. One study of more than 230,000 medical-abortion patients found an overall complication rate of 0.65 percent. Pls.' Reply Ex. 2, at 2. The rate of complications requiring hospital admission was found to be 0.06 percent; of complications requiring emergency-room treatment, 0.10 percent. Id. The risk to the patient varies directly with the gestational age of the fetus: the longer she waits, the more dangerous abortion becomes. Pls.' Ex. 1, at 3.

One study concluded that "[t]heoretically, it appears that the mechanisms of mifepristone

action favor the development of [Clostridium sordellii ] infection that leads to septic shock," Defs.' Ex. 9, at 1, though "it has since become evident that no specific connection exists between clostridial organisms and medical abortion." Defs.' Ex. 8, at 8. Another study, a review of fourteen years' literature on the topic, found a "moderate to highly increased risk of mental health problems after abortion" generally. Defs.' Ex. 7, at 1. Further literature reviews, however, including of the previously cited study, have found that unwanted pregnancies carry the same risks to mental health no matter whether the pregnancy is carried to term. See Pls.' Reply Ex. 2, at 3. Mifepristone may be the cause of "excessive hemorrhage" not seen in surgical abortions. Defs.' Ex. 10, at 1. Similarly, one study found that, while surgical and medical abortions "are generally safe, ... medical termination is associated with a higher incidence of adverse events" relative to surgical termination. Defs.' Ex. 6, at 1. Dr. Allison Cowett, one of Plaintiffs' experts, finds that study "to have several limitations which call into question its findings[,]" Pls.' Reply Ex. 2, at 2, though she does not elaborate her concerns for a lay readership. See id.

Undisputed, however, is the gravity of the abortion decision, as well as the fact that the personal experiences of women who have received medical abortions vary widely. For some, the prospect of taking the misoprostol at home promises "comfort and familiarity." Pls.' Ex. 2, at 4. Further, "[p]atients have reported that they feel more in control of what is happening to their bodies with medication abortion" as opposed to surgical abortions. Pls.' Ex. 1, at 5. Others, however, experienced intense physical pain, found themselves traumatized by the experience of passing their pregnancies by themselves, and deeply regret their decisions. Defs.' Ex. 11, at 3; Defs.' Ex. 12, at 3, 6; Defs.' Ex. 13, at 3–4; Defs.' Ex. 14, at 2; Defs.' Ex. 15, at 3.

II. Access to Abortion in Northern Indiana

Indiana currently has six licensed abortion clinics. Three are located in Indianapolis, at the center of the state. One is located in Lafayette, northwest of Indianapolis and approximately one third of the way between Indianapolis and Chicago. One is located in Bloomington, southwest of Indianapolis and approximately halfway between Indianapolis and Indiana's southern border. One is located in Merrillville, in the northwest corner of the state close to Chicago.

South Bend, Indiana's fourth most populous city, is located north of Indianapolis near the Indiana-Michigan state line and approximately halfway between Indiana's western and eastern borders. It is home to two universities, Indiana...

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