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The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law passed in Indiana requiring abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains, a measure that pro-choice groups have denounced as extreme. (Photo: ProgressOhio/Flickr/cc)

Upholding Indiana's Fetal Remains Law, Supreme Court Sends 'Direct Signal' That Roe May Be In Jeopardy

"This law does absolutely nothing to improve healthcare. It's meant to shame women and cut off access by driving up the costs of an abortion procedure."

Julia Conley

Pro-choice groups called a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a restrictive abortion law a "mixed ruling" on Tuesday, expressing relief that the court did not rule on whether women should be permitted abortion care in certain situations but decrying the ruling's overall message about women's right to choose abortion.

In a 7-2 ruling, the court upheld part of an Indiana law—signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2016—which requires abortion providers to cremate or bury fetal remains instead of disposing of them in medical offices with other medical waste. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

NARAL Pro-Choice America argued Tuesday that the law has no legitimate purpose, a point the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had made in an earlier ruling. Forcing medical providers to add another step to obtaining abortion care creates a new barrier for women, NARAL said.

"This law does absolutely nothing to improve healthcare," the group tweeted. "It's meant to shame women and cut off access by driving up the costs of an abortion procedure."

Lawyer Amee Vanderpool wrote on Twitter that the ruling "gives credence to another argument down the road that a fetus has rights similar to a living human," and could threaten Roe v. Wade.

The court declined to hand down a decision on another portion of the fetal remains law, which would prohibit women in Indiana from obtaining abortions in certain situations, including to terminate a pregnancy because of fetal abnormalities.

The court "expresses no view on the merits" of the issue, the ruling reads, of "whether Indiana may prohibit the knowing provision of sex-, race-, and disability-selective abortions by abortion providers."

But, Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote in a 20-page opinion, the court "will soon need to confront the constitutionality of a law like Indiana's" due to what he saw as "the potential for abortion to become a tool of eugenic manipulation."

Thomas's opinion along with the court's decision to uphold the fetal remains law amounted to "a rhetorical assault against women who get abortions," wrote lawyer and journalist Mark Joseph Stern.

The ACLU applauded the high court's decision not to rule on situations in which women in Indiana should be denied the right to abortion care, but called the decision a "mixed ruling.

The court, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project director Jennifer Dalven said, "let another unwarranted restriction on abortion stand."

"While the ruling is limited, the law is part of a larger trend of state laws designed to stigmatize and drive abortion care of out of reach," said Dalven.

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