The proposed Whole Woman’s Health Alliance location on Lincoln Way West in South Bend, shown here in late March 2019. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
The proposed Whole Woman’s Health Alliance location on Lincoln Way West in South Bend, shown here in late March 2019. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
SOUTH BEND — A federal judge ruled Friday to allow Whole Woman’s Health Alliance to open an abortion clinic in South Bend, calling the Indiana State Department of Health’s rejection of a license for the clinic a “substantial obstacle” for women in the area seeking abortions.

In her ruling to grant a preliminary injunction to open the clinic, Judge Sarah Evans Barker said the state health department’s previous rejection of a license for the clinic violates due process and equal protections. The license requirement has been the crux of clinic operators’ arguments, which they argue is “arbitrary” and “vague.”

“We hold that the state stands to lose little if an injunction is issued,” Evans Barker wrote, “but women in northern Indiana stand to lose a great deal if it is not.”

The clinic has waged a legal battle since its initial license application was denied on the grounds the nonprofit failed to meet requirements of having “reputable and responsible character” and didn’t disclose “information related to additional clinics.”

Whole Woman’s Health Alliance appealed that decision, and an administrative judge recommended the clinic receive a license, but that recommendation was overturned in a 2-1 vote by an appeal panel composed of another judge and two members of the state’s executive health board.

“It can be difficult for federal judges and federal litigators, from our comfortable vantage points, to understand how completely the everyday life of another may be outside of her control — but we must try to understand it,” Evans Barker wrote in her order, saying many women in northern Indiana might not have the means to travel elsewhere to get an abortion.

The “unavailability of abortion in South Bend imposes a substantial obstacle to its access,” Evans Barker wrote.

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