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Law School Case Brief

Box v. Planned Parenthood of Ind. & Ky., Inc. - 139 S. Ct. 1780 (2019)


A provision of Indiana law alters the manner in which abortion providers may dispose of fetal remains. Among other changes, it excludes fetal remains from the definition of infectious and pathological waste, Ind. Code §§ 16-41-16-4(d), 16-41-16-5, thereby preventing incineration of fetal remains along with surgical byproducts. It also authorizes simultaneous cremation of fetal remains, Ind. Code § 16-34-3-4(a), which Indiana does not generally allow for human remains, Ind. Code § 23-14-31-39(a). The law does not affect a woman's right under existing law to determine the final disposition of the aborted fetus. Ind. Code § 16-34-3-2(a).


In 2016, the State of Indiana passed an abortion law which: (i) altered the manner in which abortion providers could dispose of fetal remains by preventing the incineration of fetal remains along with surgical byproducts; and (ii) barred the knowing provision of sex, race or disability selective abortions by abortion providers. Plaintiff Planned Parenthood of Indiana & Kentucky, Inc. ("PPINK") filed an action in federal district against defendant Kristina Box, the Commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health seeking, among other things, injunctive relief barring enforcement of those two provisions. The district court initially entered a preliminary injunction, and both parties subsequently filed motions for summary judgment. The court granted PPINK's motion for summary judgment, declaring the provisions unconstitutional and permanently enjoining the State from enforcing them. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. Box filed a petition for a writ of certiorari arguing that the court of appeals incorrectly invalidated the two new provisions.


Were the challenged provisions of the State of Indiana's abortion law unconstitutional?


(i) No; (ii) Court refused to take cognizance


The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari as to (i) the incineration provision and reversed the court appeals' decision as to that provision; the Court denied the writ of certiorari as to (ii) the selective abortion provision. The Court ruled that the State had a legitimate interest in the proper disposal of fetal remains and the law was rationally related to the State’s interest in such proper fetal remains disposal, even if the law was not perfectly tailored to that end. As to the selective abortion provision, the Court declined certiorari as only one court of appeals had addressed the aforementioned issue and, in accord with long-standing practice, the Court denied petitions insofar as they raised legal issues that had not been considered by multiple courts of appeals.

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