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March 27, 2013

Ultrasound mandate dropped from Indiana abortion bill

INDIANAPOLIS — A requirement that clinics offering the abortion pill perform ultrasounds on women seeking the drug was dropped Wednesday by Indiana legislators considering a broader bill aimed at tightening regulations on such clinics.

Anti-abortion groups are going along with the change after the ultrasound requirement drew attention with doctors affiliated with Planned Parenthood. They said it would have essentially forced women seeking the drug to undergo an invasive transvaginal procedure because the abortion pill is given early on in pregnancy, when the embryo or fetus is too small for an abdominal ultrasound to detect.

Abortion-rights supporters welcomed the change made by the Indiana House Public Policy Committee, but continue fighting provisions that would force clinics that provide only drug-induced abortions to meet the same facility requirements as clinics that perform surgical abortions.

The committee voted 8-5 to advance the bill to the Republican-dominated House.

Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said the group agreed to drop the ultrasound requirement because debate over it before the bill passed the state Senate last month had taken focus away from its goal of tightening the abortion pill regulations.

“The focal point of the legislation was bringing regulation to the use of a dangerous abortion drug in Indiana, and after the Senate hearing too much focus shifted over to the ultrasound side of things,” Fichter said after Wednesday’s hearing.

Other provisions in the bill would prohibit the abortion drugs from being given to a woman more than nine weeks pregnant unless federal regulations approve it for use after that time. It also would require clinics to provide information on the dangers of abortion-causing drugs and offer women the option of viewing an ultrasound or hearing the fetal heart tone.

Opponents of the bill focused much of their criticism at its requirements that all clinics meet the same facility standards as sites providing surgical abortions. Doctor’s offices would be exempt from the provisions, even if those physicians sometimes prescribe abortion pills, and opponents and supporters said those requirements would affect only one clinic — a Planned Parenthood facility in Lafayette.

Nine surgical abortion clinics are currently licensed in Indiana, including three run by Planned Parenthood, according to state records.

Liz Carroll, a vice president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, disputed arguments that the Lafayette clinic is unregulated, saying its staff had to follow the same state laws on informed consent and waiting periods as those clinics performing surgical abortions and comply with state and federal laws that cover doctor’s offices.

Carroll said the proposal would force the Lafayette clinic to follow rules such as the size of procedure and recovery rooms even though its only abortion service consists of doctors providing pills.

She said that “seems to us to be unnecessary and expensive regulation that does not further a patient’s safety.”

If the bill becomes law, Planned Parenthood will continue providing services such as birth control and screenings for cancer and for sexually transmitted diseases at the Lafayette clinic, but will have to review whether it can afford a remodeling project to continue providing the abortion pill, Carroll said.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, joined the committee’s four Democrats in voting against the bill. Eberhart said he agreed with 90 percent of the bill but questioned whether the state should extend surgical facility requirements to the Lafayette clinic but not doctor’s offices. The other eight committee Republicans supported the bill.

Fichter, the Indiana Right to Life leader, said state law needed to keep up the trend toward drug-induced rather than surgical abortions.

State records show that 4 percent of Indiana’s 10,514 abortions in 2004 were drug-induced, growing to 18 percent of 9,112 abortions in 2011.

Most states already have the same clinic regulations for those providing medical or surgical abortions, with Indiana among six states with current regulations only on surgical abortion sites, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that does research on reproductive health.  

Fichter said he hoped the tougher state regulations would discourage the opening of more clinics offering the abortion pill.

“The door remains wide open under current Indiana law for any abortion business to come to Indiana and do chemical abortions anywhere it wishes,” he said.


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