News Local/State

Indiana Bill for Tougher Abortion Pill Law Advances


Indiana clinics that provide only abortion drugs would face the same requirements as those where surgical abortions are performed under a proposal approved Wednesday by a state legislative committee.

The bill approved by the Senate's health committee in a 7-5 vote would also require doctors to have ultrasound examinations conducted on women before providing any drugs to cause abortions.

The provisions covering clinics that provide abortion pills would require them to have surgery facilities and equipment and resuscitation equipment, such as defibrillators, even if surgical abortions aren't conducted there. The bill exempts physician offices from any extra regulations even if those doctors sometimes prescribe abortion pills.

Dr. John Stutsman, the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said a clinic the group operates in Lafayette is believed to be the only location that would be affected by the regulation changes.

Nine abortion clinics are currently licensed around the state, including three run by Planned Parenthood, according to state records.

Supporters of the increased regulations maintain abortion pills sometimes lead to health problems for which the prescribing clinic must be prepared and have the proper facilities.

"They don't need to have all that to hand pills over," Indiana Right to Life legislative director Sue Swayze said. But she said complications are more common with drug-induced abortions and "that's when they're going to need to follow through with their care" of a patient.

Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville joined committee Democrats in questioning how the additional clinic restrictions would benefit health care for women.

"We have a billion-dollar surplus and we're not doing anything to increase funding for mental health, we aren't doing anything to increase funding for more care for low-income women," Becker said. "This bill definitely limits access to safe and affordable health care for low-income women."

The proposal now goes to the full Senate for consideration and would also need to pass the House, both of which are controlled by Republicans. Conservative legislators in 2011 pushed through a law that cut off some state funding to Planned Parenthood, but federal courts have blocked it from taking effect.

Most states already have the same clinic regulations for those providing medical or surgical abortions, with Indiana among six states with current regulations only on surgical abortion sites, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that does research on reproductive health.

Indiana Right to Life questioned last year whether the Lafayette clinic was meeting the state abortion clinic standards and began pushing for the broader definition.

Sen. Travis Holdman, the bill's sponsor, said all clinics providing regular abortion services should be held to the same health and safety standards. He said he was comfortable exempting physician offices from the requirements because most of those doctors will be dealing with their regular patients.

"They are going to know what the history of that patient is," said Holdman, R-Markle. "I think there's just natural follow-up that's going to occur if it's the primary physician, so I'm not sure that we need to put the same burden on them."

Stutsman, the Planned Parenthood official, said the group didn't know yet what changes it would have to make to the Lafayette clinic if the proposal became law.

He said the requirement to perform ultrasounds was an intrusion into how doctors deal with their patients and would lead to unnecessary procedures.

"It is the physician who needs to look at all the clinical findings to determine the care of the patient so we can guarantee her utmost safety," he said.