Indiana’s SB 317, a bill that would change how medication abortion can be provided in the state, has been altered in the face of massive criticism over the proposal to force women to undergo unnecessary trans-vaginal ultrasounds. An amendment by Republican Senator Ron Alting will allow doctors to use their medical discretion to decide how to follow up after an abortion.
Betty Cockrum, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana said that she believe that Sen. Alting was sincere in his move to remove the second ultrasound from the bill as a way to “remove legislators from practicing medicine without a license,” a complaint that was leveled at the state politicians last year when they also sought to pursue unpopular abortion regulations. But although they may have addressed one issue with the bill, the actual motive behind SB 317—the attempt to close down the only clinic in the state that provides only medication, not surgical, abortions—is still just as intact.
“This bill still very much puts our Lafayette clinic’s ability to provide services in jeopardy,” Cockrum told Rewire. “The requirements to the facility are still as much of an issue as before.”
The full senate is expected to approve SB 371 on Tuesday, and it will then head to the House where it will likely be heard by the House Public Policy committee. The committee is majority Republican, with nine male Republicans—including the Chair and Vice Chair—and four Democrats, three of whom are women. The number of women in the committee could change the face of committee debate, a factor that we have seen come to play in legislative debates over abortion restrictions across the country, but still leaves members who may support the bill vastly outnumbered.
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Committee Chair Bill Davis, like many Indiana Republicans, has been endorsed in his previous races by Indiana Right to Life. But, much like Governor Mike Pence did in his 2012 race, Davis appears to have avoided making much of abortion as a key issue in his last campaign, instead citing his focus for the next session would be on jobs, education, and the budget. Also, there is reason to believe that Republicans may not want to support the bill, either. State Sen. Vaneta Becker, a Republican, joined with the Senate Democrats to oppose the bill in committee, expressing concern that without adequate options, low-income women may turn to more dangerous means to obtain an abortion if their only local medication abortion provider closed. “This bill definitely limits access to safe and affordable health care for low-income women,” Becker said in justifying bucking her party for the vote. For other Republicans who say they worry about women’s safety, Becker’s words could have weight in a final decision on whether or not to support the bill.
Eventually, if SB 317 passes all chambers, it would then be up to Governor Mike Pence to decide whether to sign or veto the law. Pence ran a deliberate campaign to avoid social issues in favor of fiscal policy when he pursued the governor’s office, despite a long and active career championing social conservative causes in Congress. A veto would show that he has truly changed focus and is no longer interested in putting the far right’s platform ahead of Hoosier’s demands for legislation that addresses the financial troubles of the state. Signing the bill would reinforce that regardless of what he says on the campaign trail, his primary aim is to use his office to advance the religious right’s crusade.