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State Senate OKs bill to cut Planned Parenthood aid

April 19, 2011

The Indiana Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give the state some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding for organizations that provide abortions and cut off some federal money that the state distributes to them.

The bill would also ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health. Indiana law now permits abortions up to the point of a fetus' viability — about 24 weeks.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana said the bill is unconstitutional and threatened to sue, saying the intent of the legislation is to immediately shut down nearly $3 million in federal family planning and Medicaid funding that passes through the state to the organization. It said thousands of residents rely on its 28 health centers.

Planned Parenthood performed more than 5,500 abortions in Indiana last year and had revenue of about $15.7 million.

"It makes absolutely no sense to reduce access to birth control when the objective is to reduce the incidence of abortion," said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

The proposal is similar to an effort that Republicans in Congress agreed to drop earlier this month. The GOP dropped the plan that would have cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood as part of the deal that averted a shutdown of the federal government.

Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life, said Senate passage of the bill marked a "monumental day."

"The Indiana Senate is sending a resounding message that our state is solidly behind policies that respect the sanctity of life," he said.

Bill supporters said state and federal money shouldn't be funneled to organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Hospitals where abortions are performed could still receive state funding.

"Taxpayers will no longer fund any agency that provides abortions," said Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis.

Opponents say federal laws prohibit government grants from going toward abortions. They said the money Planned Parenthood receives is used to provide services such as birth control and pelvic and breast exams to thousands of low-income women.

Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, said she could have voted for the bill had it only changed the abortion rules. But she said it was a mistake to include a provision in the bill to cut Planned Parenthood funding — especially because the measure was inserted in the bill Monday without going through the committee process of holding a public hearing.

"I cannot support it when it takes away preventative health care services for low-income women," Becker said. "It's unconscionable that we would even consider doing so."

Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, said the bill — which also requires abortion providers to tell women in writing that a fetus might feel pain at or before 20 weeks — is demeaning to women. She said those considering abortions do not make the decision lightly.

"It is a difficult, awful, trying, terrible family decision," she said. "Why we feel like we have to harass women when they're in the midst of making these most important decisions. ... My goodness."

If the bill passes, Indiana would join Nebraska and North Carolina in banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization that supports abortion rights.

The bill now moves to the Republican-controlled House for consideration. A House committee previously approved a similar funding ban for Planned Parenthood, but that bill wasn't voted on by the full House because of the five-week walkout by Democrats over other legislation.

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