In a split decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Indiana cannot ban selective abortions motivated solely by the fetus’ sex, race, or disability as per a 2016 law. Justices did, however, allow the state to move forward with restrictions on how fetal remains are handled after an abortion is performed.
The restrictions? That fetal remains must be buried or cremated following an abortion.
It’s a small win for the anti-abortion movement in that with just one unlikely ruling, the United States Supreme Court unintentionally, and possibly unknowingly, settled one of the most debated arguments in the case for abortion: That an unborn child is a human, and eliminating them is a tragic death that should be handled with dignity.
Abortion activists have long focused their argument on two primary clauses. The first is a woman’s right to choose, which often negates the baby’s basic human right to life. The second argument, and probably the most stifling of the two, is declaring that the unborn is not a human, just a mere fetus — thus it needs not to be treated like a human, even in death.
But in a time where members of our society continue to challenge the human-hood of an unborn child, the Supreme Court has allowed the state of Indiana to require that a terminated fetus (ripped apart limb by limb) be buried or cremated in the same way as that of a living, breathing, human.
Justices concluded Tuesday in a 7-2 vote that the state of Indiana has a “legitimate interest in the proper disposal of fetal remains” and that requiring the burial or cremation of an aborted fetus does not impose an “undue burden” on access to abortion.
Without oral argument,#SCOTUS upholds Indiana law requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated, denies review of law barring abortions based on fetus’s race/sex/disability, leaving in place lower-court ruling striking down that law
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) May 28, 2019
The ruling, just one of the many in the heated abortion debate consuming American headlines right now, keeps abortion bans and things like a “heartbeat bill” off of the state legislator’s docket for the time being.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana’s ban on “selective” abortions, which was signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2016 imposed an “undue burden” on women. That part of the state law remains blocked.
Although the ruling differs significantly from many of the extreme abortion restrictions making headlines across the country, anti-abortion activists say it’s a step in the right direction.
“We thank the Court for affirming today that nothing in the Constitution or precedents of the Court prohibits states from requiring that the remains of human children be treated better than medical waste,” Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group, said in a statement. “This is a straightforward issue of whether states may regulate the proper and dignified disposal of human remains.”
As several states quickly push to enact strict laws on abortion — many of which have already been overturned — experts believe that more modest restrictions like Indiana’s may have a greater chance of succeeding if challenged.
In his 20-page opinion on the decision, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said that it is only a matter of time before SCOTUS more forcefully enters the national abortion conversation. “Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever,” Thomas wrote. “Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this court is duty-bound to address its scope.”
Tuesday’s partial ruling on the current state law is just one of the many that political analysts are looking to in identifying a clear picture of how state representatives across the country might rule in future cases that could eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.