February 20, 2009

Abortion bills pass Indiana Senate, head to House

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

When does life begin? Catholic teaching articulates this concept very clearly: Life begins at conception.

The question is, Can Hoosier lawmakers put this simple, yet profound concept into law?

Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), author of two abortion bills which passed the Senate on Feb. 10, realizes that lawmakers may not be able to get this exact language in a statute, but she is doing her part to improve informed consent laws for abortion and holding doctors who perform them more accountable.

Miller’s informed consent bill, Senate Bill 90, which passed the Senate 39-11, would add several new components to Indiana’s informed consent law.

Consent to an abortion would be made in writing rather than given orally,which is now the law and current practice.

It would inform the woman in writing, at least 18 hours prior to the abortion, about adoption options and that some of the health costs associated with having the baby could be paid by the adopting couple.

Women seeking an abortion also must be informed of physical risks involved with having an abortion and carrying the baby to term, that human life begins when sperm and ovum meet, and that the fetus may feel pain during the procedure.

Sen. Miller said that she had wanted to get the language that life begins at fertilization in the bill, but the senator said that there was too much opposition to it so she had to settle for a more technical definition stating that human physical life begins when sperm and ovum meet and the cells begin to divide.

Another measure authored by Sen. Miller would require more accountability for doctors performing an abortion.

Senate Bill 89, passed by the Senate 44-6, requires physicians performing abortions to obtain hospital privileges in the county where the abortion is performed or in a nearby county for the purpose of follow-up treatment for a woman who has had an abortion.

“The purpose of the physician admitting privileges bill, Senate Bill 89, is to make sure that the doctor is available for follow-up treatment if a woman has complications due to the abortion,” Sen. Miller said. “Right now, at least as far as I know, [many] physicians that perform abortions in Indiana come from another state.

“The doctor leaves and if the woman has complications she is told to go to an emergency room. Then an emergency room physician is providing treatment for problems that [he or she is] not responsible for,” Sen. Miller said. “And in some cases, the woman is embarrassed about having an abortion and may not tell the doctor she has had an abortion so the physician is unclear what triggered the hemorrhaging.”

Senate Bill 89 also requires the physician to notify the patient of the hospital locations where the patient can receive follow-up care. It also makes abortion physicians more accountable for the abortions they perform and provides better after care for the woman.

“These bills are not new to the Senate,” Sen. Miller said. “They passed the Senate last year, but were combined into one bill. This year, the bills are separated into two bills but, in years past, they have not gotten a hearing in the House.”

Information provided by Americans United for Life, a national pro-life action coalition, suggests that informed consent laws reduce abortion, not because access is denied but because women are more informed about the truth of abortion and decide against having one.

Between 1990 and 1999, abortions declined by 18.4 percent. Research conducted by the Heritage Foundation, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., confirms that informed consent state laws reduce the number of abortions. In particular, parental consent laws for minors seeking an abortion have the most significant impact in curbing abortion. Indiana currently requires parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.

According to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures on state informed consent laws, 33 states require counseling; seven states require informing about the abortion and breast cancer link; eight states require informing about fetal pain; 20 states require informing about the mental health impact; six states require ultrasound services; and 28 states have a waiting period.

Rep. David Cheatham (D-North Vernon) and Rep. Matt Bell (R-Avilla) are the House sponsors of the bill. Since the Democratic Party holds the majority of seats, Rep. Cheatham will be the lead sponsor of the bill as it moves through the House.

The bills have not been assigned to a House committee. When they are assigned to a committee, it will be up to the committee chair to determine if the bill will receive a hearing.

Sen. Miller said she is uncertain about the fate of her bills as it is now up to House members to act.

(Bridget Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. To learn more about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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