A Republican-backed bill that would ban virtually all abortions in Indiana enters the next round of debate Tuesday, while hospitals and physicians across the state push back against the proposal.
Senators debated the bill for more than three hours on Saturday before voting to advance the bill to the House during a special legislative session. Senate Bill 1 seeks to ban abortion at conception except for narrow exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Lawmakers in the House are scheduled to take up the measure in a day-long committee hearing Tuesday.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said Monday there are “a lot of issues that were brought up” in the Senate. Now, lawmakers in the House “want to take a closer look at” those ideas and concerns.
“We’re going to come forward with what we think is the best, thoughtful policy that protects life and supports women and children across the state,” Huston said Monday. “It needs some work. And I’m confident that (the committee) will do the work to improve it.”
Indiana hospitals ‘concerned’ about abortion restrictions
The Indiana Hospital Association, which represents more than 170 hospitals across the state, called for the General Assembly to ensure “physician protections” as lawmakers debate Indiana’s response to the U.S. Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Association President Brian Tabor said in a statement Friday that the organization is “concerned” that Indiana is “creating an atmosphere that will be perceived as antagonistic to physicians.”
“As state-level decisions continue to unfold, we caution our public officials from sending signals that could further exacerbate our health care workforce shortage and threaten access to care,” he said. “We urge lawmakers to protect all medical professionals from liability and other repercussions when working in good faith to comply with state laws while providing lifesaving care to Hoosier moms and babies.”
The Indiana State Medical Association expressed similar concerns.
“Indiana cannot have an effective health care system if the training and expertise of physicians is not respected and they are under constant threat of political interference for practicing medicine and assisting their patients,” said ISMA Executive Vice President Julie Reed.
Indiana University Health, the state’s largest health care network, said it also wants to “ensure” that physicians and patients “have clarity when making decisions about pregnancy.” That includes the ability to address not only life-saving interventions, but also to intercede when a pregnant woman’s health is at risk—and to make sure providers are not criminalized when doing so.
“The bill’s restrictions on a physician’s ability to do what is medically proven and appropriate for the health and life of a pregnant patient, plus the threat of criminalization, impact our ability to provide safe and effective patient care and could deter physicians seeking to live and practice health care in Indiana,” the hospital system said in a statement Saturday.
Doctors push back, too
The statements build on opposition from numerous doctors who testified against the bill in the Senate last week.
Doctors and nurses, representing groups including the Indiana State Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all opposed the measure.
Maternal-fetal medicine specialist Dr. Mary Abernathy said an abortion ban will increase maternal and infant mortality.
“My concern is that OB-providers in rural areas will simply decide to stop providing maternity care or choose never to restart with our program,” Abernathy said. “I fear that they will become worried that they might run afoul of the law, somehow.”
Dr. Amy Caldwell, an OBGYN representing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said her colleagues are “fearful to do their jobs,” noting that language in the bill is “unclear” and could put in jeopardy the licenses of medical professionals who perform abortions for any reason.
House Speaker Todd Huston announced the following schedule for the Indiana House of Representatives during the week of Aug. 1.
Tuesday, Aug. 2
9 a.m. Courts and Criminal Code committee meeting on Senate Bill 1, the abortion-restricting bill, in the House Chamber. Members of the public will be allowed to provide testimony at this time.
9 a.m. Ways and Means will hear Senate Bill 2, the wraparound services bill, in Room 404. Public testimony will be taken.
The House will convene for session 30 minutes after the conclusion of the hearing on SB 1.
Wednesday, Aug. 3
No House session
Thursday, Aug. 4
9 a.m. House session — At this stage, lawmakers may offer, debate and vote on amendments to the bill. Filed amendments will be available for review at iga.in.gov.
Friday, Aug. 5
9 a.m. House session — The House will convene for bill(s) on third reading. Debate on those bills will occur at this stage, and a final vote is expected to be taken on them.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of abortions. The solution is not to ban them,” Caldwell said, emphasizing that the solution is access to “comprehensive contraception.”
Bill author Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said Saturday she hopes those concerns are addressed in the House, emphasizing her worry that the current bill “interferes” with doctor-patient relationships.
What happens next
The House Courts and Criminal Code Committee is scheduled to take up the bill starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Committee Chairperson Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, did not indicate how long the committee expects to hear testimony on the bill, saying only that public comments will be heard “throughout the day.”
“We want people who can come here to the Statehouse to testify to be able to share their stories and share their interpretations of what the experiences might be in their life,” she said. “This is a contentious issue. It’s an emotional issue. We want to make sure that we’re exceptionally thoughtful as we go through the entire process.”
Huston added that this is a topic that has already “been talked about for a long time,” referring to the roughly six hours of testimony heard on the proposal in the Senate last week.
“At some point, you have to move forward with the process,” he said.
The House speaker said the abortion bill was sent to the courts committee–rather than to the Public Health Committee—because he “felt like it was the appropriate place to put it.”
“A lot of the subject matter that’s being discussed—the code cites and those types of things—are topics in code that chairwoman McNamara and the rest of the committee are used to,” Huston said.
Huston and McNamara said they expect additional amendments to the bill, but neither would say specifically what changes the House committee or full chamber might propose.
Both lawmakers said they thought exceptions for abortions in cases of rape and incest should remain in the bill. An amendment to strip the bill of the hot-button exception—which sets an 8-week limit on abortion for those age 16 or older—failed in the Senate last week.
McNamara additionally signaled possible changes to the bill’s requirement for women to submit a notarized affidavit to their doctor to access an abortion in cases of rape or incest.
“That topic is definitely up for discussion, and one that I would say is probably pretty contentious,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re conscientious of those people who experience trauma in rape and incest situations.”
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