Indiana anti-choice advocates weren’t content simply to allow the state legislature to pass TRAP bills that would increase the expense of running a clinic that provides abortions. Now, they’ve tried a new ploy—filing a disability complaint.
[I]n a letter dated Sept. 29, the Justice Department said it would take no action even though “our decision does not indicate whether or not we believe there has been a violation of the ADA . . . the Department is not able to pursue every complaint we receive.”
“All they needed to do was send a letter,” responded Humbarger, who said she may investigate other possible responses. “Even though fewer women in Allen County are getting abortions, they still deserve a facility that meets federal law.”
Humbarger said she’s not finished with the complaint. According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, she told supporters at the group’s annual banquet, “I will be in this fight for life until no more babies die and no more mothers cry.”
Klopfer, who was unavailable for comment, was scheduled to attend hearings on his appeal last Wednesday in Indianapolis, but agreed to drop his appeal after reaching a settlement with the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). There are now six abortion providers practicing in Indiana and none in the northern part of the state, according to ISDH.
As part of the settlement, the state agreed to dismiss proceedings against Klopfer for his alleged legal violations, including failure to maintain proper records, if he gave up his abortion clinic license. He cannot re-apply for a license for 90 days.
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One of the primary issues with the clinic was an alleged failure to comply with Indiana’s informed consent law and its forced waiting period, which requires patients seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins.
The Life Center, an anti-choice group, has offices next to the Women’s Pavilion, and its volunteers stand outside the clinic trying to coerce women against entering. Shawn Sullivan, an attorney for the Life Center, told Rewire that the forced waiting period and required in-person counseling make it easier for anti-choice volunteers to approach patients seeking abortions before their procedures, but that Klopfer was not following those rules.
“What we have at the Life Center is a group of people we call TLC Advocates, they do the sidewalk counseling. They reach out to the mothers knowing they are going in for counseling and that they will have the opportunity to think about the alternatives that we offer at he Life Center,” Sullivan told Rewire. “What ended up being the violations that would finally close the abortion clinic were the informed consent violations …. That’s how we got started with the complaint letters to the ISDH.”
Sullivan said the Life Center sent many complaint letters to ISDH, as the group believed Klopfer wasn’t complying with Indiana’s restrictive abortion laws. Though Life Center members claim responsibility for the closing, they are unhappy with the settlement, believing that Klopfer’s license should be permanently revoked.
Waiting periods aren’t the only obstacle to abortion access in Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence (R) last month announced a $3.5 million contract with the anti-abortion organization Real Alternatives, a Pennsylvania-based group whose stated purpose is to “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” Pence has been outspoken in his opposition to abortion rights during his time as governor.
In a statement regarding the termination of services at the Women’s Pavilion, Patti Stauffer, vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK), said that four of Indiana’s 92 counties now have an abortion provider. Neighboring Michigan has a 24-hour forced waiting period, but no face-to-face requirement, so patients can print out the materials with a time stamp 24 hours in advance of their procedures.
The Women’s Pavilion is remaining open for referrals and other services, but the nearest Indiana abortion clinic is 70 miles away in Merrillville.
“Indiana’s regulatory environment is becoming increasingly anti-abortion,” Stauffer said in her statement. “Unfortunately this presents great barriers to access, particularly for low-income women who struggle with the burden and cost of longer travel distances and their responsibilities on the home front. Patient safety is paramount. Every new barrier increases risk to the patient.”
A growing number of states are requiring providers to report abortions on minors as possible cases of rape or incest, even when no evidence of abuse exists—and anti-choice groups are increasingly exploiting these rules to try to discredit doctors or close clinics.
An Indiana abortion doctor has been charged with a misdemeanor for “failing to timely file a public report” after anti-choice activists filed numerous complaints against him.
The Lake County prosecutor’s office filed charges this month against Dr. Ulrich Klopfer for allegedly not reporting until January 2013 an abortion he performed on a 13-year-old girl in September 2012. Indiana statutory rape reporting laws require abortions performed on girls younger than 14 to be reported within three days to the state’s health and child welfare departments.
According to the prosecution’s probable cause affidavit, Lynne Scherschel of Lake County Right to Life brought the reporting issue to the attention of a detective in December.
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The South Bend Tribune reported that Klopfer was one of several Indiana doctors to delay reporting abortions on minors, and that he had done so on at least three occasions. Klopfer told the Tribune that he had made an “honest mistake” in taking too long to report two of those abortions, but disputed state records that said he had taken six months to report a third from February 2013. Klopfer said he faxed the necessary report to the department of health on the day of that procedure.
As Rewire reported in November, a growing number of states are requiring providers to report abortions on minors as possible cases of rape or incest, even when no evidence of abuse exists—and anti-choice groups are increasingly exploiting these rules to try to discredit doctors or close clinics.
Scherschel’s complaint that led to the charges against Klopfer was far from the first formal complaint filed by anti-choice activists against the doctor. Cathy Humbarger, executive director of the Allen County Right to Life, filed a complaint in September 2013 over Klopfer’s alleged reporting failures. Then, in October and December, at least 20 women, some of whom were members of Indiana Right to Life, filed a total of over 1,200 complaints against Klopfer for an alleged “1,494 errors and omissions made by Klopfer between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013 on terminated pregnancy reports that doctors are required by Indiana law to file for every abortion they perform.”
In an interview with Rewire this week, Klopfer claimed he has proof that Right to Life altered documents to come up with those alleged 1,494 separate errors.
While Klopfer again admitted to making “honest mistakes” in waiting too long to file reports, he said that the Right to Life groups are “basically doing a witch hunt” against him.
“They’re not the documents I sent into the state. They take a document and they fill it in their way and then send it into the state saying that I falsely reported this stuff,” Klopfer said. “Then it doesn’t match the report I have in my chart or the patient’s chart. Because we keep a copy of everything we send to the state.”
Rewire was unable to verify Klopfer’s claims because patient privacy laws prohibit him from sharingthe documents. Klopfer said he plans to prove the matter to the attorney general’s office.
A patient educator at Klopfer’s South Bend, Indiana clinic who asked not to be identified told Rewire that many of the “errors” cited by Right to Life were in fact statistical information unrelated to the patient’s health or safety. For instance, if a patient did not wish to disclose her ethnicity, and that line was left blank on the form, Right to Life would consider it an error. Moreover, she said, “Some of the numbers don’t match up. I’m not going to give specifics, but they’re saying there’s so many documents, and we don’t necessarily have that many patients, so I’m not really sure where all those documents are coming from.”
Indiana Right to Life did not respond to requests for comment before publication time. A spokesman for Indiana’s department of health, which maintains terminated pregnancy reports, said the department redacts all documents to comply with privacy laws, prior to releasing them to the public.
In the wake of sustained negative attention from anti-choice activists, Klopfer has had to take a “hiatus” from performing abortions at his Fort Wayne clinic, leaving the city without an abortion provider for the time being. Dr. Geoffrey Cly, who had partnered with Klopfer so Klopfer could comply with county admitting privileges laws, terminated that arrangement effective January 1. According to the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Cly “agreed to serve as Klopfer’s backup in 2010 in order to protect the health of women receiving abortions from Klopfer, since he practices in Fort Wayne only one day each week.”
(Under county law, physicians must partner with a local doctor if they are working in a county in which they do not reside, and must have admitting privileges at an area hospital or an agreement with a local doctor who has said privileges with an area facility.)
Cly, who is anti-choice, said he ended the arrangement because of the reporting failure allegations against Klopfer, as well as comments he made to Rewire in November about advising minors to have abortions in nearby states with less stringent reporting requirements.
Klopfer’s Fort Wayne clinic remains open, and he still sees patients there and performs pre-abortion counseling. But patients will have to drive almost another 100 miles to his South Bend clinic to receive an abortion. “That will add to their cost and hardship,” Klopfer told the News-Sentinel.
The Indiana Medical Licensing Board referred Klopfer’s case to the attorney general for further investigation after Klopfer appeared before the board on Wednesday to address his public comments on the reporting issues. Klopfer’s medical license was renewed in October but was stipulated as being “under review.”
The Lake County prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the misdemeanor charges.