Whole Women’s Health continues their battle with state of Indiana and Right to Life Michiana

Whole Women’s Health of South Bend, the abortion clinic in South Bend, has been involved in a legal battle since before their opening. Though open, they are still seeking a license as well as suing the state with objections to further abortion restrictions. 

On their website, Whole Women’s Heath declares that they are “working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion in our culture.” They are “committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities, and transforming the abortion care environment.” However, the way in which they execute this mission has recently come under question, particularly in the case of their South Bend clinic. 

Several complaints about the clinic were filed by Right to Life Michiana to the Indiana Department of Health. Jackie Appleman, Executive Director of Right to Life Michiana, told the Rover, “Our mission is to protect life from conception to natural death. We want to create a culture of life and love through prayer, education, outreach, and advocacy.”

Not only did they disagree with the legalization of abortion, Right to Life Michiana complained complained that  Whole Women’s Health of South Bendc “failed to have a procedure for communicating with physicians concerning a patient emergency, failed to have a policy on the reuse of disposables,” and they “failed to have a procedure in place to address the reporting of adverse reactions and medication errors.” 

In a sequence of events reported by the Rover in the Spring of 2019, the state of Indiana denied their application for a license, due to concerns about health code violations and a history of other Whole Women’s Health Clinics failing to meet standards of care.

In response, Whole Women’s Health President and CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, insisted that information against most of the already established Whole Women’s Health clinics was invalid since the South Bend Clinic is part of Whole Women’s Health Alliance, her non-profit abortion clinic chain, not her for-profit abortion clinic business, Whole Women’s Health. After appealing within the court system several times,  the South Bend clinic was granted an injunction in the summer of 2019 which states that “defendants are preliminarily enjoined to treat Whole Women’s Health with respect to the South Bend Clinic as provisionally licensed.”  

Jackie Appleman told the Rover, “The question that I haven’t received a direct clarification to is what is [the state’s] enforcement ability.” When asked about this, an employee of the Indiana Department of Health system told the Rover, “That’s a good question, I have to look into that. 

She later deferred the question to a higher authority who could not be reached for comment. No matter what the health inspection policy actually is, the clinic is currently operating under Indiana State law as if they were licensed under Indiana Administrative Code Section 410, which outlines the legal proceedings of an abortion clinic in the State of Indiana. 

Whole Women’s Health is not satisfied with this state of affairs. Jackie Appleman informed the Rover that Whole Women’s Health Alliance “sued the state to remove all the abortion restrictions in the state of Indiana… If they win that lawsuit, all the regulations will be removed.” The case is set to be heard March 2021.

Whole Women’s Health has spoken out against the stance taken by Jackie Appleman and Michiana Right to Life, who stand opposed to the clinic’s operating without a license and in opposition to their current lawsuit, which claims that abortion restrictions are unconstitutional. Amy Hagstrom Miller, President and CEO of Whole Women’s Health Alliance, provided the Rover with a written statement on the matter:

“Michiana Right to Life continues to spread lies, disinformation and dangerous rhetoric about our injunction. Make no mistake, this is an attempt to discredit Whole Women’s Health Alliance and preclude us from offering medication abortion services. Like many state-level abortion regulations, licensing laws treat abortion as different from other medical procedures. The best evidence shows that there’s no basis for this double standard: the consensus among health professionals is that abortion is safe, and U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana Judge Sarah Evans Baker agreed. We will continue to work tirelessly to provide patients with the safe, compassionate abortion care the people of Michiana need.”

Whether they can continue to operate — if their temporary injunction is extended or if they are given a license — is now in the hands of a judge.  Jackie Appleman said: “There’s not much we can do. They’re open without a license under the authority of a federal judge… We are going to start a campaign to contact [Whole Women’s Health of South Bend] to drop the lawsuit.” The campaign will aim to protect the current abortion restrictions that  limit the number of abortions which take place in the South Bend clinic, and to demand that Whole Women’s Health be held to the standards expected of so-called healthcare providers.

Ms. Appleman was clear that the work of Right to Life Michiana was not limited to legal battles. The organization coordinates regular sidewalk counselors and prayer witnesses outside of the clinic, in order to ensure women know that another option is available to them. Even if the lawsuit is heard as scheduled, she continued, “If we can make sure everyone is supported enough that an abortion isn’t necessary, that is a success for us.”

Joe DeReuil is a freshman studying Political Science and in the Program of Liberal Studies. He can be found most afternoons contemplating the moral dilemma as to whether it is worthwhile to argue online. He would appreciate someone shaking him from this fruitless reverie by emailing him at wdereuil@nd.edu.