Abortion bill wins Senate’s approval

Women seeking abortion-inducing drugs would have to get ultrasounds first and the clinics that prescribe them would have to follow a new set of regulations under a measure approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill passed on a 33-16 vote despite a chorus of complaints from opponents who said it’s a step too far into doctors’ offices without improving their patients’ health.

“This bill is not about patient safety. It’s about patient harassment,” said Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville, who was one of only four of the Senate’s 37 Republicans to join the 12 Democrats who opposed the bill.

Now, Senate Bill 371 heads to the House, where Republican Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis said he expects it to win passage as well – perhaps after some changes.

The bill would make Indiana the ninth state to require ultrasounds before abortions. It would also require clinics that prescribe the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 to meet the same standards as surgical clinics, even though it would not impose that same requirement on private physicians.

That portion of the measure would directly affect Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Lafayette, Ind. That clinic prescribes patients the drug, but does not offer surgical abortions.

“This bill is directly targeted to Plannd Parenthood in Lafayette, Ind. That’s all it’s about, is getting at Planned Parenthood in Lafayette, Ind.,” Becker said.

“When you do this, you’re not doing anything that will improve the health and safety of low-income women in the state of Indiana. All you’re doing is forcing them to go other ways – in particular, to the internet – to get this same particular drug that you’re talking about regulating.”

Tuesday’s debate on the Senate floor was controlled almost entirely by opponents of the bill.

Democrats argued that for women seeking abortions, the bill aims to “make it as difficult as possible, make it as intrusive as possible, and then maybe somebody will change their mind,” said Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis.

“This is not going to help women be healthy. This is just going to make it harder for them to get an abortion,” he said.

Another Democrat – Sen. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis – said the bill would lead women to order the drug online rather than visiting a doctor at all.

“The backers of this bill,” she said, “are interested in making abortion, which is a safe and legal procedure, less accessible to Hoosier women.”

The bill has been controversial because it could – especially in early stages of pregnancies, when the abortion-inducing drug is more likely to be prescribed – require doctors to perform more invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, rather than “jelly-on-the-belly” abdominal ultrasounds.

Though doctors say they recommend ultrasounds before any abortion, opponents said it’s inappropriate to mandate the procedure.

The only senator to speak in the bill’s favor was its author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.

“I am not active in a Right to Life organization. I introduced this bill because my own religious conviction and my respect for life and the health of women,” Holdman said.

“There has been no regulation of abortion-inducing drugs in the state of Indiana, and there are a number of us that believe that we need to have some regulation.”

Senate drops second ultrasound from abortion bill

Indiana would still become the ninth state to require women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound first under a measure that’s set for a vote Tuesday in the state Senate.

But lawmakers decided to drop language that would have required a second ultrasound – that one two weeks later, to confirm that the pregnancy was terminated.

The change came Monday as the Republican-dominated Senate debated a bill that also requires clinics that prescribe abortion-inducing drugs that are taken orally to meet the same regulatory standards as locations where surgeries are performed.

The bill has become a lightning rod, with abortion opponents arguing that it’s necessary to oversee clinics that operate in the state’s regulatory shadows and pro-choice advocates calling it an intrusive step into women’s relationships with their doctors.

“It makes a lot of sense to have basic health standards so that a woman going in for a chemical abortion knows that those standards are being met,” said Becky Rogness, the Indiana Right to Life communications director.

“It is intended to confuse and shame women who are already dealing with a difficult situation. It’s the last thing they need,” said Betty Cockrum, the president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

Senate Bill 371 is part of a trend as legislatures across the nation, especially in conservative states, advance similar measures to require ultrasounds before abortions and also to impose new restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.

“We’re still in the midst of this wave,” said Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that studies reproductive health worldwide.

Eight states already have laws on the books that require women who are seeking abortions to first receive ultrasounds.

Louisiana and Texas require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and then display and describe the image. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi and Virginia require ultrasounds and for women to be offered the opportunity to view the image.

Two more states – North Carolina and Oklahoma – have laws requiring ultrasounds, but courts have struck those laws down. A more influential legal decision came, though, when a federal court upheld the Texas law.

Opponents of those laws, Nash said, typically are supportive of the idea that ultrasounds are usually appropriate before abortions.

“Quite honestly, as a part of abortion care – an ultrasound is relatively routine. It’s not always medically necessary, and so what we’re really talking about is how far the legislature can place itself into medical care,” she said.

“What abortion restrictions just fail to take into account are the individual woman’s needs. What the state is proposing here is a one-size-fits-all solution to medical care when we all know that each patient is different.”

That was the crux of the argument one Republican senator made Monday when he successfully pushed an amendment to drop from the bill what would have been a second ultrasound requirement – this one, about 14 days after the abortion.

“I think that physicians know a little bit more about that particular area than legislators,” said Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette.

After his amendment, the bill still requires a follow-up appointment but allows doctors to confirm that the pregnancy was terminated “any way that he or she was trained.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle. He said Alting’s change made sense, but that requiring ultrasounds is necessary to make sure abortion-inducing drugs aren’t given to women with ectopic pregnancies.

“I don’t move in the political Right to Life circles in the state of Indiana. I introduced the bill because of my faith and my religious belief that we need to do something to protect the mother,” he said.

“We’re dealing with an unborn child here, as well, and I felt that we just need to regulate abortion-inducing drugs.”

Holdman’s bill requires clinics – but not private physicians – that prescribe the RU-486 abortion pill to meet state standards for surgical clinics. It would directly affect just one clinic – Planned Parenthood’s Lafayette location, which offers the pill but not the surgical procedure.

Rogness said surgical centers “have the doctor that’s present. They have standards for the facility so that in the unfortunate case that there was a medical emergency, a stretcher could get into the room.”

But Cockrum said factors such as “doorway width and hall width” have nothing to do with whether doctors should prescribe a set of pills that patients take by mouth.

“It’s a smokescreen, and what they would do if they pass this bill is very likely cause the medication abortions provided in Lafayette to shut down, and what that means is it reduces access for women here in Indiana,” Cockrum said.

Another bill set for a vote on Tuesday – Senate Bill 489, authored by Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis – would require that women considering abortions be given informational pamphlets that include color photographs of fetuses at various stage of development. Current law requires that information be distributed, but not that it be in color.

Both bills were the subject of contentious arguments on the Senate floor Monday.

Democrats sought to amend the bill requiring ultrasounds to also require prostate exams for men seeking erectile dysfunction medication.

It was authored by Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, who said she is upset by the ultrasound requirement. “At first glance, my amendment might look like a tongue-in-cheek amendment,” she said. “But it really seeks to make a point about what it is we’re doing here.”

New abortion regulations clear Senate panel

An effort to require clinics that dispense an abortion-inducing drug to provide ultrasounds and meet the same regulatory requirements as surgical clinics was approved Wednesday by a state Senate panel.

The bill does not apply to private physicians, and would specifically affect the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette, Ind. – the only one of the organization’s four abortion-providing clinics in the state that only offers the procedure through medication.

That led opponents to complain that the measure would sacrifice women’s health – and require women in early stages of pregnancy to undergo an invasive vaginal ultrasound – in order to advance a social agenda.

“This bill definitely limits access to safe and affordable health care for low-income women,” said Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville, the only Republican to join the committee’s Democrats in voting against the bill.

It passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee on a 7-5 vote and now moves to the full Senate, which approved a similar measure last year.

It advanced with the backing of a cadre of anti-abortion organizations that argued the drug RU-486 poses more dangers to women than the surgical procedure.

“We’re just trying to control and regulate abortion-inducing drugs, which heretofore have not been regulated by the state of Indiana,” said the bill’s author, Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle.

“I don’t believe we’re asking for anything that’s unreasonable. We’re talking about the life of the mother and the child.”

During Wednesday’s committee hearing, the bill became a proxy for the larger fight over abortion rights – with advocates of the bill saying they want to limit the drug’s use.

The drug is the “abortion industry’s method of choice” for the procedure, said Sue Swayze, the lobbyist for Indiana Right to Life.

“I’m not here to pitch surgical abortions by any stretch of the imagination, but if a woman’s choosing that abortion, I’d much rather choose to see her choose a safer surgical abortion,” she said.

Marc Tuttle, the Right to Life of Indianapolis president, decried the drug as among the “social tools to simply increase the number of abortions in our community.”

Opponents of the bill said it wouldn’t improve the quality of health care available to women seeking abortions.

The bill is an effort to “exert social control” and “open the purse strings of religious right political donors,” said Dr. Sue Ellen Braunlin, an anesthesiologist and co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition in Support of Reproductive Justice.

She complained that requiring clinics that provide the drug to meet the same standards as surgical clinics is unnecessary.

“Does anyone think this bill solves a problem that actually exists? Let’s be honest: Nobody thinks the remarkable safety of medication abortion is going to be improved with wider hallways,” Braunlin said.

The committee approved another abortion-related measure Wednesday that requires clinics that offer abortions to provide women informed consent forms that include color photos of fetuses at various stages of development.

Both now move to the full Senate for consideration ahead of a key Tuesday deadline.

Long calls for convention to amend U.S. Constitution

A top Indiana lawmaker wants states to demand a constitutional convention where they’d work to limit the federal government’s power.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Thursday that he’s introducing a measure that would call for a convention where states could propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The goal at such a gathering, he said, would be to keep Congress from abusing its powers to tax and regulate interstate commerce.

“I think it’s the only way that states’ rights can be protected in this country,” Long said.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for a convention to consider constitutional amendments like Long is proposing. But it has never happened – and couldn’t unless two-thirds of all state legislatures were to demand it.

Long said so far he has spoken with legislative leaders in Tennessee and Texas, who he said called the idea appealing. “My intent is to spread it around like Johnny Appleseed as much as I can,” he said.

The move comes as Long faces criticism from conservatives who wanted him to allow the Senate to vote on measures he called “blatantly unconstitutional” because they would have Indiana ignore federal laws.

He said his list of complaints with the federal government includes the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass a budget in recent years, President Barack Obama’s health care law and more.

“It’s scandalous,” he said, “what they get away with.”

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he will carry Long’s measure if it reaches his chamber.

“There is general consensus that the federal government has reached into the corners of the room that it has no business going into,” Bosma said.

Sunday alcohol sales scotched for now

At least this year, efforts to lift Indiana’s ban on Sunday alcohol sales are dead.

House Public Policy Committee Chairman Bill David, R-Portland, has decided not to give the measure a vote on whether to advance it to the full House floor. His decision comes after he held the first-ever House committee hearing on the topic.

A group called Hoosiers for Beverage Choices, which argues that Indiana loses $10 million in tax revenue each year by sending Sunday alcohol buyers into other states, is asking its members to contact their legislators to urge action on the issue.

“We are very disappointed that Chairman Davis has apparently refused to listen to Hoosiers who want greater shopping convenience, expanded buying choices and more competitive pricing,” said Grant Monahan, the president of the Indiana Retail Council. “We need to put Hoosiers first instead of special interests.”

If he gets his way, though, it won’t happen until next year.

Hunting, fishing and farming amendment passes Senate

An effort to add Hoosiers’ hunting, fishing and farming rights into Indiana’s constitution cleared the state Senate on Monday and is now one step away from going to voters through a 2014 statewide referendum.

The measure’s author, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said constitutional protection is necessary to guard against the influence of Humane Society of the United States. He said the group has opposed certain farming practices and sport hunting.

“You think they haven’t spread their tentacles? I merely ask you to go to your computers and look them up,” Steele said.

His proposed amendment passed the Senate on a 38-10 vote – with those who opposed calling the measure unnecessary – and now heads to the Indiana House. If it’s approved there, it would go on the November 2014 ballot.

Steele said 17 states have written a right to hunt and fish into their constitutions, while only North Dakota – which “beat us to the punch last year” – has also added the right to farm.

He said the idea of such constitutional protections has existed since the 1700s, when Vermont guaranteed its residents’ right to hunt.

“The king of England had denied hunting to the people of England, and when they came to our country, our forefathers wanted to guarantee that this would never happen again,” Steele said.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said Steele’s amendment is unnecessary because it would change none of Indiana’s current laws.

“Sometimes I wonder what we do here in the legislature,” he said.

Gay marriage battle will be fought in 2014

Despite pressure from Republicans’ social conservative flank to act now, lawmakers will wait until next year to vote on whether to write a same-sex marriage prohibition into Indiana’s constitution.

Republican leaders said Thursday that they will not vote on the proposed amendment this year and will wait until next year instead because they want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Then they’ll know if Indiana’s proposed amendment – which also bans civil unions or anything like them – can go forward as it’s currently drafted.

It was a decision supported by an “overwhelming” majority of the party’s members, said state Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne. He announced the one-year delay alongside House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“It seems prudent for us to wait, given that the possibility exists the Supreme Court could find ours, as well as many other statutes throughout the country and constitutional amendments, unconstitutional,” Long said.

Technically, it doesn’t matter. Whether lawmakers approved the amendment this year or next, it would go on the 2014 ballot for final approval.

But the decision carries political consequences.

“We have 320 days to convince legislators to be on our side,” said Rick Sutton, the executive director of Indiana Equality Action.

Despite the delay, Long and Bosma said they support the amendment and believe it will ultimately be approved. As long as the Supreme Court’s ruling is favorable, the measure “has the wind at its back next year,” Bosma said.

He said it “is still supported by a majority of Hoosiers, significantly. That’s my statistical analysis of it, and it’s proven to be correct in the past.”

However, two recent publicly-released polls show a rapid shift.

A recent Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found that 45 percent of likely Hoosier voters would support such a constitutional amendment, while 43 percent would oppose it.

A Ball State University survey, meanwhile, found that just 38 percent of Hoosiers – the entire population, rather than likely voters – support a constitutional ban of same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The portion of the amendment that bans not just same-sex marriage but any legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships has caused some Republican lawmakers and businesses the most consternation.

Even Bosma said that portion is the most controversial, though he said it doesn’t change his mind about the amendment overall.

“I may not agree with every word in it,” Bosma said, “and if I were sitting down to draft it on a fresh piece of paper I might draft it a little differently, but, you know, we are where we are with it.”

Both Long and Bosma acknowledged that some Republicans who supported the amendment in 2011, as well as some newly-elected members, would oppose it now.

“Like the general public, some legislators that supported it in 2011 are having second thoughts about it and re-examining the issue,” Bosma said, adding that a “handful” of veteran Republicans might switch their votes and “some of the new folks” might oppose it, too.

“When you look at younger peoples’ views of this versus people of middle age and older, there are different perspectives on it,” Long said. “That’s something that we all realize.”

Gay rights advocates called the delay a win – even if a minor one – because they say the more time they can buy, the better their odds become.

“A delay is by no means a win, but we believe we are headed in a better direction,” Sutton said.

He said Indiana Equality Action has worked for seven months on a public relations campaign to try to defeat the amendment in the General Assembly or, if necessary, at the ballot box in 2014.

It’s also being opposed by Columbus-based engine maker Cummins, Inc., Indianapolis drug-maker Eli Lilly and Company and other businesses who say a same-sex marriage ban would harm their efforts to attract top out-of-state talent to Indiana.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly took the first step toward writing a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution in 2011, when the proposed amendment easily passed the House and the Senate.

If lawmakers once again approve the exact same measure either this year or next year, then the amendment would go on the November 2014 ballot and voters would get the final say through a statewide referendum.

Legislative leaders could announce gay marriage decision Thursday

Top state lawmakers are expected to announce today whether they will vote this year or wait until 2014 on a measure that would amend a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, scheduled a joint news conference for 1 p.m. Thursday.

They both previously told reporters that they will announce how they’ll handle the issue – with a vote either this year or next on whether to put the proposed amendment on Indiana’s 2014 ballot – sometime this week.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on two other states’ marriage laws expected to be delivered this summer has given lawmakers pause. Most members of the House and Senate judiciary committees, which would cast the first votes on the measure, told the Courier & Press they prefer to wait until they know whether that ruling could affect Indiana’s proposed amendment.

Last week both Bosma and Long nodded toward waiting, as well. “Personally, I think it’s inadvisable to move forward with the United States Supreme Court having the issue before it,” Bosma said.

The amendment lawmakers are considering would ban same-sex marriage as well as civil unions or any similar legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

It passed both the House and the Senate in 2011. The second step in the process of amending Indiana’s constitution requires the exact same proposed amendment to pass again in either 2013 or 2014. If it does, voters would get the final say through a 2014 referendum.

Vote on marriage amendment likely in 2014 rather than 2013

The two top Republicans in the General Assembly — House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long — both said Thursday that they plan to announce next week whether they’ll take up the constitutional same-sex marriage ban during this year’s session or wait until 2014.

The best bet right now is that they’ll wait until 2014.

I’ve got two stories — one from last week and one from Monday — that lay out exactly why. The short version: Most members of the House and Senate judiciary committees want to delay action until they hear what the U.S. Supreme Court has to say.

Nine of the 13 House Judiciary Committee members say wait until 2014 or later, and the other four say they don’t have a preference. Only four of those 13 members say they’re definitely supporting the proposed amendment, while six of them — including five who have voted for it in previous years — didn’t stake out firm positions. That means it’s not entirely clear that the measure has the votes to pass the House.

Meanwhile, most members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also say they prefer 2014. The proposed amendment is currently waiting in the Senate’s rules committee, but Long would likely direct it to the Judiciary Committee when he decides to consider it. The chairman of that committee, Bedford Republican Brent Steele, was among those who told me he’d rather wait until 2014.

Outside groups, including Eric Miller’s Advance America and Micah Clark’s American Family Association of Indiana, say they prefer lawmakers go ahead and cast their votes on the marriage amendment in 2013.

But Bosma and Long are reacting to what appears to be a broad majority of their members who say they should push the debate off until 2014.

More Republicans want to delay marriage vote by one year

A growing number of lawmakers say they’d prefer to delay Indiana’s battle over a constitutional same-sex marriage ban for a year in order to wait for a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The top Senate leader said Republicans will meet soon to discuss a legal analysis of what the court’s ruling on other states’ marriage laws could mean for Indiana’s proposed amendment. He said they’ll determine how to handle the issue then.

“We’ll take it to caucus and discuss it next week,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – the panel that started the clock on Indiana’s three-step constitutional amendment process by approving the ban in 2011 – told the Courier & Press they’d prefer to vote during the General Assembly’s 2014 session.

“Just as a pragmatic and probably an economical approach to the whole thing – it’d be better to wait and not waste time and money in case the Supreme Court goes a different direction,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford.

However, members of the Republican-dominated General Assembly are being pushed by advocates of one-man, one-woman marriage laws to move forward during their 2013 session.

Eric Miller, the head of Advance America whose network of more than 3,700 churches has made him a powerful conservative leader, said it “would be good” for lawmakers to cast their final votes on the issue this year.

“I think it would again pass overwhelmingly,” Miller said. “It would send a signal to the U.S. Supreme Court that Indiana believes marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Steele, who said he “probably” supports the proposed amendment, said the Supreme Court’s ruling could affect portions of the measure. It includes a second sentence that also bars civil unions or any other legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships.

Lawmakers “don’t have the ability to undo” any of the language included in the measure if they’ve already voted to put to voters through a statewide referendum, he said.

“I think next year would be more appropriate because we really need to see what the Supreme Court decision’s going to do,” Steele said.

The House and Senate both took the first step toward amending a same-sex marriage ban into Indiana’s constitution in 2011. If both chambers approve the exact same measure in either 2013 or 2014, voters would have the final say through a November 2014 referendum.

A one-year delay would give opponents of the ban, who won fights in favor of same-sex marriage in four states during the 2012 elections, another year to try to sway lawmakers – and to prepare for what would likely be an expensive and high-profile campaign.

Republican leaders, including Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, have advocated the amendment in previous years but say this year that it’s fallen on their priority list.

Several other senators who serve on the 10-member Judiciary Committee said they, too, want to wait for the Supreme Court to rule.

Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said she believes “marriage should be between a man and a woman,” but that she hasn’t decided whether she supports the amendment. She said she’d prefer to cast her vote in 2014.

“I’m opposed to hanging ornaments on the constitution like a Christmas tree, but if that’s what we have to do to protect marriage, then I guess we’ll have to do it. But right now, I’d like to see what the Supreme Court has to say,” she said.

Two others – Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel – said they support the proposed amendment, but that waiting until 2014 could make sense if lawmakers want to dodge potential consequences of the looming Supreme Court ruling.

“There probably is a little wisdom in waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides to do or not to do before we lock the voters into a referendum. But I don’t have a strong feeling one way or another,” Delph said.

Three other Republicans – Sen. Joe Zakas of Granger, Sen. Randy Head of Logansport and Sen. Doug Eckerty of Yorktown – said they have no opinion.

Six of the 13 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which also approved the amendment in 2011, told the Courier & Press last week that they are unsure how they’d vote this year. Four said they support the amendment and three said they oppose it.

Nine of the 13 said they prefer to wait until 2014 – at least – to deal with it, while none said they feel it’s important to tackle the issue in 2013.

Miller, the Advance America leader, said his call for a 2013 vote doesn’t mean he wants lawmakers to push their work on other key issues to the side.

“I don’t have a problem with it waiting,” he said, “until after the budget and after some education and economic development matters pass the House and Senate.”