February 7, 2014

Abortion legislation moves to clarify current law

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Three bills to clarify laws affecting Indiana’s abortion industry are advancing in the Indiana General Assembly this year. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the legislation.

House Bill 1123 would prohibit elective abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans. Senate Bill 292 would change Indiana abortion law to enhance information for follow-up care. Senate Bill 228 urges the General Assembly’s legislative council to form a study committee to examine the issue of coerced abortion.

House Bill 1123 author Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Litzon, explained that the bill would make Indiana’s law uniform regarding elective abortion coverage. Currently, this prohibition is in effect only for policies purchased as part of the state health care exchange created under the Affordable Care Act.

Under the bill, abortion coverage would be covered in a health policy only in cases of rape or incest, or if necessary to avert death or substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily functions of the pregnant woman.

“Unless we bring further clarity to this issue, what’s going to happen is that private health insurers will be required to cover abortion,” said Thompson. “Some private insurance companies should not be forced to do so because of religious beliefs.”

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director, said, “The bill is a positive step because it will allow persons whose company plan now includes elective abortion coverage to know that their premiums will no longer support abortion. It also may have the effect of reducing abortions.”

Testimony shared indicated that if a person wanted to have coverage of elective abortion, it would have to be purchased as a separate rider.

House Bill 1123 was approved with bipartisan support from the House Insurance Committee by an 11-1 vote, and approved by the full House on Jan. 24 by a vote of 80-14. The House proposal now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate Bill 292, authored by Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, requires an abortion provider to provide an emergency telephone number where the post-abortive mother could call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for medical follow-up care. It also requires a name and telephone number of a hospital where the abortion doctor has medical admitting privileges. The abortion doctor’s admitting privileges must be in writing and kept on file at the abortion facility, and a copy must also be kept on file at the Indiana State Department of Health.

Current law requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges in the county or adjacent counties where the abortion is performed, but the privileges do not need to be documented in writing.

The ICC supports the bill as a clarification in the law.

Cindy Noe, who represents Indiana Right to Life, said Senate Bill 292 is focused on women’s health, and making sure a woman who has had an abortion and needs follow-up treatment of a medical nature has “full knowledge” of where to go and how to get it. “We ask that those women get this information twice,” she said.

Noe explained that the current practice of admitting privileges has not been as effective because the privileges were not in writing. She added that no one is keeping track if abortion doctors have admitting privileges or not, or if they have a back-up doctor to assist their patients.

Liz Carroll, vice president for patient services for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said, “A first trimester abortion procedure is one of the safest medical procedures a woman can have.”

Carroll, who testified in opposition to the legislation, said her organization has concerns about requiring abortion doctors to give their admitting privileges in advance of the abortion. They also have concerns with the requirement of making the names of back-up physicians available to the state department of health because they fear the information might be made public.

Senate Bill 228 author Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, explained that the study committee that the proposed measure creates would determine the illegality of coerced abortion, and the obligations of health care workers to notify patients of the illegality of coerced abortions or report them when it occurs.

Tebbe, who testified on behalf of the bill, said, “We support the idea of a study to find out if coerced abortion is happening.”

Noe, who also supports the bill, said that many of the specific questions about coerced abortion are unknown, but we do know that “it flies under the radar.”

She added that a study committee would provide “an in-depth, well-rounded approach to fill in some blanks to find out what is going on.”

Betty Cockrum, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, also supports the legislation.

Tebbe said he expects Senate Bill 292 to pass the Senate. However, he said Senate Bill 228 was likely to fail because the language in the bill was too broad, and there wasn’t enough time to fix it properly this year.

House bills crossed over to the Senate on Feb. 4, and Senate bills crossed over to the House on Feb. 6.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. To explore the ICC’s electronic public policy tool and join the ICC legislative network, go to the ICC Web page and click “Legislative Action Center.”)

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