Indiana Reinstates Ban on Telemedicine Abortion Consultations, Requires In-Person Exam

Indiana reinstated a ban on telemedicine consultations between doctors and women seeking abortions, instead requiring in-person examinations after a federal appeals court overturned a judge's ruling that the restrictions were unconstitutional.

Restrictions on abortion consultations and procedures were reimplemented after a 2-1 ruling Wednesday by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing Indiana to continue to enforce the laws while the court considers a full appeal of the case.

In addition to the telemedicine ban, laws require in-person examinations by a doctor before medication-induced abortions can be performed and second-trimester abortions outside of hospitals or surgery centers are prohibited.

In her dissent, appeals court Judge Diane Wood wrote that the "benefits of Indiana's law are illusory, while its burdens are very tangible."

Indiana's laws "impose an undue burden on the set of women for whom the law makes a difference — Indiana women of limited means who cannot leave their jobs, pay for extensive travel, obtain access to cars, and potentially go out of state, simply to obtain a lawful abortion," Woods wrote.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Supreme Court Abortion Protest
An appeals court ruling allowed Indiana to continue enforcing its laws that put restrictions on abortion consultations and procedures. Supporters of Judge Amy Coney Barrett and pro-abortion rights supporters gather outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill on Oct. 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Court of Appeals said District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker's ruling last month was inconsistent with previous Supreme Court decisions and reinstated Indiana's abortion restrictions.

"Plaintiffs contend, and the district court found, that developments in videoconferencing make it possible to dispense with in-person meetings, that improvements in medicine make the use of hospitals or surgical centers unnecessary, and that nurses are competent to approve and monitor medication-induced abortions," the ruling said. "The district court concluded that these findings permit it to depart from the holdings of earlier cases. Yet the Supreme Court insists that it alone has the authority to modify its precedents."

Barker, who was nominated as a federal judge in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan, had ruled that the state didn't have the constitutional authority to restrict the use of virtual telemedicine services to women seeking medication abortions without providing evidence that it benefitted the women's health.

The Indiana attorney general's office argued in its appeal of Barker's decision that "the Constitution does not require state legislatures constantly to update state statutes to keep up with ever-advancing technologies just because those technologies may make abortion more convenient."

Drug-induced abortions made up 55 percent of those performed in Indiana last year, according to the state health department.

The Indiana abortion restrictions were challenged in a broad lawsuit filed by Virginia-based Whole Woman's Health Alliance and other abortion-rights supporters in 2018 as Whole Woman's Health fought the state's denial of a license to open an abortion clinic in South Bend.

Lawyers for Whole Woman's Health didn't immediately comment Thursday on the appeals court ruling.