News Abortion

Indiana Bill Targeting Medication Abortion Clinic Passes Senate Committee

Robin Marty

Two bills meant to limit a woman's access to abortion pass an Indiana Senate committee, and one could cut of medication abortion for women in Western Indiana all together.

There is only one clinic in Western Indiana and it offers only medication abortion. Indiana Right to Life and the state’s anti-choice politicians believe that simply cannot be allowed. To close the clinic, a new TRAP law has been proposed that will force the Planned Parenthood clinic of Lafayette to be reclassified as an “abortion clinic,” and forced to adhere to the same facility layouts and restrictions as all of the state’s surgical abortion clinics, despite the fact that it doesn’t offer surgical abortions at all.

“SB 371 is a thinly veiled effort at preventing our Lafayette health center from providing our patients with the option of non-surgical abortion – a safe and legal early-term procedure,” said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana via statement. “Non-surgical abortion has proven to be safer than everyday medications such as acetaminophen.  In fact, the bill recognizes this by exempting non-surgical abortions provided in doctors’ offices.”

Both SB 371 and SB 489, a bill that would require new printed “informed consent” documents to be given to women, which would include color pictures of fetal development (because, as one legislator explained, black and white versions aren’t “realistic” enough), were debated in a contentious senate committee panel. Each side received 30 minutes for testimony. Supporters of the bill in the legislature are almost all men and are primarily affiliated with Indiana Right to Life. Only one medical practitioner spoke in favor of the bill, a retired OBGYN associated with the anti-choice group. A roster of clergy, doctors, and medical students opposed both bills, underscoring that they would jeopardize the doctor- patient relationship. “[Bill proponents] testify that it’s harmful to let people see the fetus when it passes,” said Anna Gaddy of Medical Students for Choice, referring to anti-choice testimony regarding why RU-486 abortions “hurt” women. “I think it’s harmful to force them to listen to a heartbeat.”

Although testimony surrounding both bills focused on alleged safety and information concerns for those seeking abortions, the number of testimonials from religious groups on both sides of the aisle could not be ignored. Speaking on behalf of the bill were members of the state’s Catholic conference, while opposition included a handful of members of Indiana’s Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights. “For people of faith, reproductive justice is a moral imperative,” testified Rev. Linda Dolby of United Methodist Church in Lafayette. “Justice calls for equality in access to safe and legal procedures that are available for all.”

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Despite rejecting repeated questions from the committee about why, if these regulations are necessary for the safety of all patients undergoing a medication abortion, the law only affected clinics, not private physicians, SB 371 passed and will go on to the Senate for a full vote. SB 489 also passed out of committee after an amendment was added to allow women to opt out of viewing an ultrasound or listening to fetal heart tones, although an ultrasound would still need to be performed.

“And here we thought our conservative legislators were interested in smaller government and less regulation. It’s clear that these bills are about politics, not women’s health or safety,” said Planned Parenthood’s Cockrum.  “We oppose both of them because politicians should never be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions.”

If SB 371 is signed into law, the Lafayette clinic will either be required to stop performing medication abortions or will need to rebuild its facility to include wider halls and rooms, new sterilization equipment and specialized laundry services, and will require on-site anesthesia. If the clinic ceases performing medication abortions, patients would need to travel at least an additional hour for abortion services, and in some cases may find their best option is to simply leave the state.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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