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Judge rejects restraining order against Indiana abortion law

By Bill Mears, CNN
  • The law limits access to abortion services in the state
  • It was signed hours earlier by Gov. Mitch Daniels
  • Planned Parenthood calls the law "unconscionable"

(CNN) -- A controversial new Indiana law limiting access to abortion services remains in effect after a federal judge Wednesday denied a request for a restraining order from Planned Parenthood.

The brief ruling from Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in Indianapolis means the law signed hours earlier by Gov. Mitch Daniels, a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate, can continue to be enforced.

The bill cuts off all government Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood and other private abortion providers in the state. It also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, with exceptions for the life or health of the mother.

Because of the law, the state would potentially forfeit about $4 million annually in federal grants for various family planning services. Daniels had said non-abortion women's services would still be available in the state.

Pratt, who was named to the bench last year by President Obama and is the state's first African-American jurist, indicated she will need more time to consider whether the law should ultimately be allowed to stand. She said the process could take weeks. But her refusal in the meantime to put things on hold does not give abortion right supporters much encouragement.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana called the law "unconscionable" and said refusal to stop enforcement at least temporarily during appeals would hurt low-income women who need family planning services

The measure specifically blocks the Indiana Department of Health from signing contracts with any group performing abortions, with the exception of hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

Planned Parenthood said that under the law, women who rely on Medicaid coverage could no longer receive services at any of the group's 28 centers throughout Indiana.

"We are deeply disappointed that the judge decided not to stop this unconscionable law from impacting Hoosiers seeking preventive, reproductive health care," said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. She estimated $2 million of the roughly $3 million in organization's current annual government funding would be eliminated.

Medicaid is a nationwide health program for low-income patients, funded primarily by federal money but administered by the states. Opponents of the new law, HEA 1210, said it violates federal law by depriving Medicaid patients of their choice of health care provider.

In signing the bill, Daniels and other state officials said readily available options exist for Medicaid patients seeking reproductive health care.

"I supported this bill from the outset, and the recent addition of language guarding against the spending of tax dollars to support abortions creates no reason to alter my position," Daniels said recently. "I commissioned a careful review of access to services across the state and can confirm that all non-abortion services, whether family planning or basic women's health, will remain readily available in every one of our 92 counties.

"In addition, I have ordered the Family and Social Services Administration to see that Medicaid recipients receive prompt notice of nearby care options."

Roughly half of all births in Indiana are covered by Medicaid.

The law also requires doctors in the state to inform patients that life begins at fertilization and that a fetus can feel pain at or before 20 weeks. Several physician groups complain that provision violates the free speech rights of health care providers.

From CNN's Bill Mears