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.”