Pro-choice advocates say two bills now pending in the General Assembly are part of a campaign to make abortion illegal in Indiana.
One, House Bill 1211, targets the procedure most commonly used to end a pregnancy in the second trimester. That bill has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The other, Senate Bill 201, expands the list of medical professionals who can cite an ethical exemption to refuse medical care. That bill has passed the Senate and is now awaiting action in the House. It has been approved by the House Committee on Public Health.
Wanda Savala, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said her organization’s objections to the first bill begin with the language it uses.
“The legislation uses inflammatory and non-medical terms that further stigmatize women’s health care,” she said.
Where the bill talks of “dismemberment abortion,” she said, medical professionals would use the term “dilation and evacuation.”
Regardless of terminology, the procedure is the one recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists after 14 weeks’ gestation.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 11 percent of abortions in the United States take place after the first trimester, and national estimates suggest that 95 percent use the method that would be banned under the proposed law.
The procedures are not common in Indiana. The state recorded just 27 in 2017.
Caitlin Bernard, a board-certified OB-GYN and a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told a legislative committee the bill would hurt Hoosier women by unnecessarily limiting their options.
“This is purely political,” she said.
In an interview, Bernard recalled a woman sitting in her office in tears. The woman had already lost one child and then found herself carrying a second child physicians had determined would not survive.
“This bill injects politicians into that very private decision-making,” Bernard said. “These are heartbreaking decisions for women to make.”
The bill adds another wrinkle, putting physicians at risk of a criminal conviction.
Pro-choice advocates see the measure as an attempt to subvert the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Roe v. Wade. They say the bill is unlikely to survive a challenge in court.
The second measure, SB 201, adds physicians’ assistants, nurses and pharmacists to the list of medical professionals who can refuse to provide medical care for ethical, moral or religious reasons. A pharmacist, for example, could refuse to fill a prescription for a drug that might induce an abortion.
Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, a researcher with Physicians for Reproductive Health, says pharmacists won’t always know the reason for a prescription and they should not refuse to fill that prescription simply based on an assumption.
Above all, Savala said, SB 201 fails to offer protection for the patient.
“The bill does not even provide an exception for patients with serious health risks,” she said.
Abortion is a difficult topic. Those on both sides feel strongly, and emotions run high.
Bernard has seen the anger up close and personal. She’s been a target of the protests.
Still, she takes a very public stance in favor of a patient’s right to choose. She testifies before a legislative committee. She talks to a newspaper columnist.
“I feel very strongly for my patients,” she said. “I do it for them.”
Physicians such as Bernard should be applauded. A patient’s health should always come first.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, should acknowledge that for now, at least, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.
They should start looking for ways to increase access to health care. They should be tearing down roadblocks, not erecting them.