Bill Intended to Eliminate Safe Abortion Access in Lafayette, Indiana, Passes House Committee

There is only one medication only abortion provider in Indiana. The Indiana legislature is one step closer to ensuring that soon there will be none.

Reproductive rights advocates scored a win as the Supreme Court let stand an Oklahoma ruling striking that state's medication abortion ban. Two tablets via Shutterstock

An amended version of a bill specifically meant to stop Planned Parenthood’s Lafayette Health Center in Indiana from providing medication abortions is one step closer to law. This morning, SB 371 passed an Indiana house committee 8-to-5. The proposed abortion amendment would require all clinics that provide any type of abortion to be held to the same physical standards as a surgical abortion provider, a mandate that specifically targets the sole Indiana clinic to offer only medication abortions, rather than both medication and surgical options.

As was the case during the public testimony period prior to the state senate vote, the individuals who testified regarding the bill were mostly leaders from anti-choice activist groups such as Indiana Right to Life, Tippecanoe Right to Life, the Indiana branch of Focus on the Family, and the Indiana Catholic Conference. Just as in prior testimonials, the anti-choice activists spoke broadly about women’s safety regarding complications from RU-486, a medication abortion pill, and stated that surgical facilities are necessary in case of incomplete abortion, infection, or sepsis when a patient has her 14-day follow-up appointment. “We want the facility to be able to deal with that issue,” said Rep. Sharon Negele (R-Attica), the sponsor of the house version of the bill.

Negele said during the hearing that as the mother of a 21-year-old daughter, her concern is that women like her daughter have a “safe” experience if they choose to terminate a pregnancy. Negele dismissed claims that the bill could drive windividuals to seek out more dangerous, unregulated drugs over the internet.

If passed, the bill could cause the Lafayette clinic to stop providing any abortions and cut off the only option for abortion access in that area of the state.

Whether women and girls would turn to the internet for medication abortion pills was a theme during the hearing, which otherwise covered mostly the same ground as the senate public testimony. In fact, the public testimony was such a retread of previous hearings that an anti-choice activist read the same letter that was read last time pleading with legislators to protect life and arguing that “RU-486 kills babies.”

Testimony moved quickly, but opponents of the bill frequently asked witnesses probing questions about whether their agenda was to “protect women’s health” or cut off safe abortion access in western Indiana. It became especially apparent that their goal is the latter when Liz Carroll, vice president for patient services at Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN), went through the individual elements of the bill piece-by-piece to determine in which ways the Lafayette clinic is already complaint. Carroll’s testimony showed that the clinic complies with every Food and Drug Administration protocol in the bill. The only ways in which it would not be compliant—without major renovation and expense—is when it comes to regulations regarding the sterilization of (non-existent) surgical equipment, hallway width, and larger surgical recovery rooms. This is because, again, the clinic does not perform surgical abortions.

Amendments to the bill would allow other surgical abortion providers to be grandfathered into the new regulations without losing their licenses if their facilities do not meet physical standards. Without one amendment, all but one of the clinics in the state could have been in danger of closing, according to the Journal and Courier. However, the amendment would not allow the medication-only clinic to opt out of the surgical clinic standards, another sign that the bill was targeting Lafayette explicitly for closure.

Doctor’s offices would also be exempt from the requirements, a move that prompted many legislators on the committee to condemn the uneven application of the bill. “The laws of our state must be applied uniformly and fairly, said state Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville), a self-described “pro-life” Republican who, along with the committee’s Democrats, voted against the bill.

Another amendment to the bill changed the date that a clinic would be declared out of compliance to Jan 1, 2014, which would allow an extra six months for the Lafayette clinic to rehabilitate its building if it chose to continue offering abortions.

Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of PPIN, called the amended bill a continued effort to cut off abortion access under the guise of “women’s safety.” “On the day after the governor of North Dakota signed the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation, our own legislature moved forward on a bill that does nothing to improve the health or safety of women,” Cockrum said in a statement. “This bill, and other efforts like it across the county, are aimed at running family planning centers out of business and ending access to safe and legal abortion.  The result will be eliminating preventive care, too.”