INDIANAPOLIS - An effort to require clinics that dispense an abortion-inducing drug to provide ultrasounds and meet the same regulatory requirements as surgical clinics has won approval by a state Senate panel.
The bill does not apply to private physicians, and would specifically affect the Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette -- 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 Wednesday 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.
Planned Parenthood President Betty Cockrum said the bill is the result of legislators playing doctor and intruding in the doctor-patient relationship.
Cockrum said it would add nothing to patient safety and would force Planned Parenthood to close one of its remaining four clinics that provide abortions, the one in Lafayette.
"And those women who are seeking to terminate pregnancy are going to figure out a way to do it," Cockrum said. "And it may be to go to the Internet. It may be to get these medications and take them without any medical supervision whatsoever."
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.
Democrats say the abortion bill is not something the General Assembly should even be dealing with right now and that Hoosiers need a break from issues like this.
"They don't like being divided for political reasons," said House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath. "They like to think about what we can do together. And those issues, people will never agree on them. Never. So when we're trying to get people back to work, trying to build a better state, how does that help? I don't know how it helps."