April 24, 2009

House OKs abortion doctors’ hospital privileges bill

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana House of Representatives passed a proposal by a 73-20 vote on April 15 which requires abortion doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges, and enhances Indiana’s informed consent law by adding that a pre-born baby might feel pain during the abortion.

The purpose of the measure, Senate Bill 89, according to the bill’s author, Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), is to provide better follow-up care for women who have complications following an abortion by requiring abortion doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges in the county and adjacent counties where the abortions are performed.

“I’m very encouraged that the House passed the bill,” Sen. Miller said. “It’s been a number of years since the House has passed any pro-life legislation. I was also encouraged that several attempts to weaken the bill in the House Public Policy Committee were averted.”

Sixteen amendments were filed in preparation for second reading in the House. Eleven of the amendments were called by the amendment authors. Only three of the amendments passed.

Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) offered the amendment that adds fetal pain to Indiana’s informed consent law, which passed by a 62-27 vote. Women seeking abortion would be informed prior to the procedure that “a fetus might feel pain.”

House sponsor of the bill, Rep. David Cheatham (D-North Vernon), offered an amendment to require hospital admitting privileges to all physicians that perform surgery, and it passed by a voice vote.

Rep. Cheatham said it became evident to members of the House Public Policy Committee that there are other types of surgery where patients are not provided adequate follow-up care, including lasik eye surgery and liposuction cosmetic surgery.

“We felt that this could be addressed so that other types of doctors would have admitting privileges so the patient would know where to go to get follow-up care,” Rep. Cheatham said.

Since the House amended the bill, the bill’s author, Sen. Miller, must either concur with the amendments made to Senate Bill 89, or dissent with the changes. If Sen. Miller concurs, the bill can go to the Senate floor for a final vote. If she dissents on the amendments, the bill will go to conference committee where four lawmakers would iron out differences.

Concerns have been raised by some lawmakers regarding the inclusiveness of all health care providers in the bill and the potential unintended consequences that it creates, not to mention the administrative burden on physicians and hospitals.

Rep. Matt Bell (R-Avilla), House co-sponsor of the bill, said that he is concerned that Rep. Cheatham’s amendment to include all physicians performing surgery to have admitting privileges “changes the dynamic a lot as a policy. If I am remembering the numbers giving during testimony correctly, there are about 12,000 licensed and practicing physicians in Indiana. About three quarters of those currently have admitting privileges. So if the bill passes as it currently stands, that’s going to affect over a thousand doctors.”

Despite these challenges, Rep. Bell said he is hopeful and very encouraged by the vote of 73 House members supporting the bill.

“I think the vote is indicative of where Hoosiers are on this issue,” Rep. Bell said.

Another concern raised by Sen. Miller is that the bill does not specify what constitutes a surgical procedure.

“This means something as simple as having a mole removed could be covered in the legislation,” Sen. Miller said. “I would prefer to concur with the amendments so the bill does not have to go to conference committee. However, there are some problems with the bill as it currently stands. If there is any way I can concur with the House amendments, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

The legislation was prompted because of problems in Fort Wayne, where local doctors had to take care of patients seen by abortion practitioner Dr. George Klopfer at the Fort Wayne Women’s Health Organization. Klopfer, who resides in Illinois, comes to Indiana to perform abortions in Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne.

There are nine abortion centers in Indiana located in five counties. Testimony during the panel hearing indicated just one of the abortion practitioners operating in Indiana has hospital admitting privileges. Representatives from Planned Parenthood have expressed concern that if this legislation passes, it will limit access to abortion.

If Senate Bill 89 passes this year, Indiana would join 11 other states which require abortion doctors to maintain local hospital admitting privileges. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The Indiana Catholic Conference supports the bill, and is hopeful the bill will become law this year. The Indiana General Assembly must adjourn by the April 29 deadline.

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

Local site Links: