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Appeals court hears arguments in religious freedom challenge to Indiana abortion ban

Hoosiers are a step closer to finding out whether Indiana’s abortion ban illegally clashes with the state’s religious freedom guarantees.

Attorneys for the state and a group of anonymous women argued over abortion and the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, before a panel of appeals court judges Wednesday.

RFRA is a legal test. It says a state law can only substantially burden a person’s exercise of their religious beliefs if the law is advancing a compelling interest and does so in the least restrictive way possible.

Appeals court judges repeatedly asked Indiana Solicitor General James Barta how the state can have a compelling interest to ban abortion when it has exceptions to that ban, like for cases of rape or incest.

“If this court looks more broadly to federal cases applying [RFRA], none of the cases have said simply because there’s an exception, the state doesn’t have a compelling interest,” Barta said.

READ MORE: Indiana’s near-total abortion ban set to take effect Aug. 1. Here’s what you need to know

ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk, representing the anonymous women, was asked whether their religious exercise was really being burdened, when none of the women are pregnant or seeking abortions.

“It’s the change in their sexual behavior,” Falk said. “They have taken steps today solely because of this statute, solely because of their religious beliefs.”

There is no timetable for the appeals court decision. And any ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Copyright 2023 IPB News. To see more, visit .

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.