UPDATE, April 2, 3:25 pm: Indianapolis Star statehouse reporter Mary Beth Schneider reports via Twitter that the bill passed 70 to 25.
Indiana’s SB 371 is an anti-choice bill that will change regulations on providing medication abortions in order to force the Lafayette Planned Parenthood to stop offering the procedure. When State Democrats attempted to add amendments to the bill, it became especially clear that anti-choice state legislators are far more interested in curbing safe abortion access than in assisting pregnant women.
The full state house was in session as SB 371 had its second reading, and Democrats took the opportunity to provide a number of amendments to the bill. Many, such as a penile ultrasound requirement, standards of care for erectile dysfunction drugs, and an amendment to make doctor’s offices that provide RU-486 rebuild themselves as surgical facilities, were proposed just to highlight the double standards applied to women’s reproductive care and were withdrawn or easily defeated.
Those amendments made a statement about the legislature’s unequal treatment of women. Meanwhile, the amendments that weren’t even put to a vote were telling of anti-choice politicians’ obsession with ending safe abortion access without providing resources for women who give birth.
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Two amendments that could have provided huge advantages for women and girls who are faced with unexpected pregnancies were both dismissed by the house chair as “not germane” to the issue of abortion. The first would have required stronger equal pay laws to ensure women receive the same wages as men in similar positions. The second would have ensured that pregnant girls would not be forced out of school, either through shame or internal policies, while they waited to give birth. Both were blocked from full house votes when the legislature sustained the chair’s insistence that the amendments had nothing to do with a bill that would likely make it so that one area of the state has no abortion provider whatsoever.
Representative Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), who proposed the equal pay amendment, argued that if lawmakers want to reduce the number of abortions in the state, they must strengthen the economic landscape for women. “The underlying bill is about reducing or eliminating abortion in Indiana,” Pierce argued on the floor regarding his amendment. “This is very germane. This bill would create economic conditions that would make women more likely to carry to term. It would do the things that would make it more likely that a woman would not chose abortion. It’s a little frustrating that the chair would consider that not germane to the bill.”
The economics of reproductive autonomy was an underlying theme for many of the proposed amendments. Pierce, Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie), and Rep. Terry Austin (D-Anderson) all repeatedly noted that by targeting just the Lafayette clinic and forcing it to stop offering medication abortions unless it invests massive financial resources into rebuilding itself as a surgical center, lower-income women will lose access to services that women with more resources and means can obtain by traveling somewhere else in the state or seeking out a private physician.
“We are creating a two-tiered system, one for low-income women and one for women of means,” testified Pierce.
Whereas the amendments proposed by Pierce and other Democrats were dismissed or voted down with little fanfare, the amendment offered by Austin drew significant attention. Telling an emotional story of going to high school with her own mother, who returned to finish her education after being forced to leave school when she became pregnant as a teen decades earlier, Austin proposed an amendment that would forbid all Indiana schools from discriminating against pregnant girls with either internal policies or social pressure to coerce her into withdrawing.
Reading from two different school policy guides, Austin showed how little protection there is for a pregnant teen girl who wants to continue her education uninterrupted. The public school guide she read from required that girls submit information about their pregnancy, including due date, to the school nurse, who gets to decide whether pregnant teens can stay in school. The private school guide she read from was even more rigid: Teens are required to identify the potential father, so both of them can publicly confess to their “sin” of premarital sex or else be thrown out of the school.
Austin’s amendment, which would require any public or private school that accepts vouchers to let pregnant teens stay in school, was also declared “not germane” by the chair, whose objection was sustained by the house. The move allowed the legislature to avoid going on the record as to whether or not each representative truly believes that a pregnant teen should be shamed or kicked out of school for being pregnant.
If SB 371 does become law, that is likely to become a very relevant issue, whether the house GOP declares it germane or not.