An Indiana House committee on Tuesday advanced a Republican-backed bill that would ban virtually all abortions in the state, though the panel removed several controversial amendments that were added in the Senate.
The committee heard more than 100 Hoosiers speak over nearly eight hours before voting 8-5 to advance the abortion ban to the full House chamber. Senate Bill 1 is expected to be further amended on Thursday. House lawmakers could vote to send the bill back to the Senate as early as Friday.
House committee scraps Senate amendments
The amendment accepted on Tuesday expanded the exception that allows abortions up to 20 weeks post-fertilization “to prevent a substantial permanent impairment to the life or physical health” of the mother. An earlier version of the bill only allowed the procedure to prevent the death or “irreversible impairment” of the woman.
Changes made in the House so far also set a deadline of 10 weeks post-fertilization for all rape and incest survivors to be able to obtain an abortion. Previous qualifications for those exceptions limited abortions performed in cases of rape or incest to 12 weeks for those under the age of 16, and eight weeks for anyone aged 16 or older.
The House Courts and Criminal Code committee also eliminated the notarized affidavit required victims of rape or incest to access an abortion. The Senate narrowly voted to add that requirement to the bill last week.
Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said the amended bill puts the House in a good spot.
Licensure for abortion clinics would also come to an end, requiring abortions to be performed in hospitals or hospital-owned surgicenters, according another addition in the amendment.
“We have to have something that everybody can agree on, so that’s our goal,” McNamara said. “That’s what we’re working towards — to make sure that we protect the unborn, and that we protect mothers and children.”
But some of the language removed guaranteed ‘yes’ votes in the Senate, making its future uncertain.
Democrats agreed to the changes, although Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he still has “a lot of problems” with the bill overall.
“This (amendment) fixes a lot of problems that were created in the Senate,” Pierce said. “As you can imagine, there are still a lot of problems that remain.”
The House amendment also eliminated a provision that would allow the state attorney general to take over prosecution of abortion-related cases if a local prosecutor refuses to. The language was added to the bill in the Senate last week.
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, who authored the amendment, signaled that it was aimed at Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, who said last month that he would not prosecute abortion-related cases if the state legislature criminalized the procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade opinion.
The new bill language adopted Tuesday instead creates a task force to study any instances in which local prosecutors make “blanket” refusals to prosecute certain laws. The task force is charged with making a report by Dec. 1, before the next legislative session.
The latest bill language states explicitly that the abortion ban does not apply to cases where the fetus is diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly, or in vitro fertilization.
Several Democratic amendments — including those seeking to expand accommodations for pregnant employees, and repeal Indiana’s existing ban on tele-health for abortion care — failed to pass the House committee.
Amended bill earns little support during public testimony
More than a dozen physicians spoke on the bill in the House committee Tuesday. Most said they were pleased to see the new criminal penalties against doctors amended out, but doubled down on concerns about the remaining bill.
As approved by the Senate, the abortion-restricting bill created new felony penalties imposed on physicians for performing unlawful abortions. The amendment adopted in the House committee deleted those new penalties, but an existing felony in state law for performing an unlawful abortion would apply.
Still, Dr. Andreia Alexander, with the Indiana State Medical Association, which has opposed the bill, maintained there should be no criminal penalties for doctors who perform unlawful abortions. Penalties should be handled by the state medical licensing board, she said.
Dr. Mary Abernathy, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, said she was worried that the proposed abortion ban — and the loss of abortion clinic licensing provision — will make it harder to get doctors to Indiana to provide prenatal care.
“(This bill) will lead to a loss of OB providers, leading to a loss and a decreased access in prenatal care,” Abernathy said, noting that women in rural areas will be most affected.
Dr. Elizabeth Eglen, who practices family medicine in Indianapolis, added that the 10-week limit for the rape and incest exceptions is too restrictive and will not give victims enough time to weigh their options.
“Women and girls, especially girls and teens, don’t know they’re pregnant by then. Most haven’t even seen a doctor yet,” Eglen said. “Trauma strangles the normal thinking processes, so rape survivors often don’t seek care right away, and delays in care are more common.”
Further, many medical students and trainees will not stay in Indiana if the legislature bans abortion, said Dr. Beatrice Solderholm, a fourth-year medical resident. She cited a recent survey of Indiana medical trainees, which showed 80% percent of respondents would leave the state if the bill becomes law.
Nearly all of people who testified Tuesday also remained opposed to the measure. The committee did not limit the number of people who could testify — unlike in the Senate, where only 61 people testified on the bill over two days.
Indiana Right to Life remains opposed to the amended bill, said spokesperson Jodi Smith. She called the fetal anomaly exception “vague and very controversial,” adding that the group cannot support language “that would allow for an abortion of an unborn baby that is past viability stages.”
“These babies should not and do not need to be aborted,” she said.
The organization is also “very concerned” about the exception for abortions after rape and incest, Smith continued. Notably, the bill no longer requires a notarized affidavit.
Smith said the bill’s exception for abortions to protect the health of the mother is additionally “very vague and poorly defined.” The group also wants to see more penalties for doctors and a way to prosecute if a county prosecutor refuses.
“These are serious issues,” Smith said. “The large loopholes and the lack of clear definition that mirror Indiana code are major concerns.”
Ryan McCann from the Indiana Family Institute, one of the state’s leading religious conservative groups, said the amendment adopted by the House committee makes the bill “better,” but maintained that the current language for exceptions still leaves loopholes.
McCann said the the exception for rape and incest, for example, should require a police report. That concern echoes pushback from other anti-abortion groups that contend the exception is too vague and would actually expand abortion access.
The group previously opposed the Senate bill, saying it didn’t establish a strict enough abortion ban.
“There are still a few issues (in the bill) that need to be handled,” McCann said. “Hopefully, as we go forward with second readings, we’ll be able to handle some of those.”