Appeals Court maintains halt on Indiana’s abortion ban against plaintiffs who claim a religious liberty right to terminate pregnancy

by | Apr 25, 2024

An Indiana Appeals Court affirmed a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of Indiana’s recently passed anti-abortion law against plaintiffs who claim that their religious beliefs require them to acquire or facilitate abortions in certain circumstances. The ruling, issued earlier this month, upholds a trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claim that Indiana’s abortion ban violates their religious freedom rights under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) law.

The plaintiffs include an organization called Hoosier Jews for Choice:

Its members are Jewish persons who believe that “under Jewish law and religious doctrine, life does not begin at conception, and that a fetus is considered a physical part of the woman’s body, not having a life of its own or independent rights.”


Hoosier Jews for Choice’s members, some of whom are capable of becoming pregnant, further believe that “under Jewish law an abortion is directed to occur if it is necessary to prevent physical or emotional harm to a pregnant person, even if there is not a physical health risk that is likely to cause substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

The Court rejected the state’s argument that pregnancy termination is not a religious exercise:

If a corporation can engage in a religious exercise by refusing to provide abortifacients—contraceptives that essentially abort a pregnancy after fertilization—it stands to reason that a pregnant person can engage in a religious exercise by pursuing an abortion. In both situations, the claimant is required to take or abstain from action that the claimant’s sincere religious beliefs direct. And in both situations, the claimant’s objection to the challenged law or regulation is rooted in the claimant’s sincere religious beliefs.

The Court further rejected the state’s contention that is has a compelling interest in protecting human life beginning with fertilization, noting that the provisions in state law allowing for abortion in certain circumstances undermines their position:

The State has not shown that its claimed compelling interest in protecting the potential for life is satisfied by denying Plaintiffs’ religious-based exception that prioritizes a mother’s health over potential life, given that other exceptions are allowed based on the same prioritization—that is, the exceptions applicable when the pregnancy poses a “serious health risk” or termination would “save the pregnant woman’s life.”

Finally, the Court did agree with the state that the trial court’s injunction is overly broad in that it barred officials from enforcing the Indiana abortion law against the plaintiffs, even in cases where the termination of a pregnancy was not directed by their religious beliefs. The appeals court remanded the matter of how to more narrowly fashion an injunction back to the trial court.

Indiana’s are not the only courts considering whether there is a religious freedom right to an abortion in certain circumstances, an argument brought to the forefront once the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs ruled that there is no federal right to an abortion.

This is one of the topics in this week’s Respecting Religion podcast, which focuses on the intersection of abortion rights and religious freedom. You can listen to it on this website page.