A bill written specifically to stop a clinic in Lafayette, Indiana, from offering abortions was signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. The new restrictions on abortion will now go into effect, leaving Planned Parenthood of Indiana with two choices: undertaking expensive, medically unnecessary remodeling of its facilities, or no longer providing medication abortions at that location, cutting off safe, legal access to abortion for western Indiana patients. However, Planned Parenthood may consider a third option: challenging the constitutionality of the bill.
The bill specifically targets the Lafayette clinic; it is the only clinic in the state to offer only a medication abortion option—the dispensing of RU-486—rather than both medication and surgical procedures. It is also the only provider in a roughly 50- to 80-mile radius.
SB 371 has been touted by Indiana Right to Life (IRTL) and other abortion opponents as a measure to ensure safer abortion care by requiring clinics that offer medication abortions to meet the same medical facility standards as those that provide surgical abortions, despite the fact that no surgery would be performed in that clinic. The bill’s supporters claim that these requirements would enable the clinics to provide follow-up care to women following medication abortions. Indeed, IRTL President and CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement released after the bill’s signing that “[t]his crucial oversight mechanism will help ensure chemical abortion facilities are ready to adequately care for any woman who experiences complications following her procedure.”
However, this ignores the fact that on the rare occasion a patient experiences a complication related to a medication abortion, that patient may wish to seek follow-up care at a personal physician or an emergency room, rather than undergo what could potentially be hours of travel to return to the Lafayette clinic.
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There’s little doubt that SB 371 was specifically crafted to cut off abortion access for women in the western half of Indiana, but IRTL’s other agenda—to limit the use of medication abortion in the state—is also at play in the bill’s passage. “While SB 371 only affects one current abortion facility that does only chemical abortions, it also prevents additional facilities from moving into Indiana and setting up shop without any oversight,” said Fichter. The bill ensures that no other medication-only abortion providers would be able to operate in a state that already has just eight providers, only four of which are located in areas outside Indianapolis. As such, anti-choice politicians have nearly guaranteed that a new clinic would be major investment and that few are likely to consider such a move.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana can now either cease performing medication abortions in the Lafayette clinic or invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to upgrade the facilities. The first option would leave a large section of Indiana with much less access to safe abortion care, especially for those without the economic means to travel long distances, while the second would be a major expense for the clinic and would set a precedent to keep out other potential providers.
It’s no wonder the group is considering a lawsuit as a possible way out. “Working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, we are currently reviewing the constitutionality of this harmful new law,” said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, in a joint statement with the ACLU. “It is very likely that we will be challenging [SB 371] in court. The additional regulations in this bill are in no way related to ‘patient safety.’ Legislators really intend to chip away at Hoosier women’s access to abortion—and as part of a coordinated national effort, shut down Planned Parenthood’s health care centers that also provide preventive care.”
“This statute imposes requirements that fail to meet even minimal rationality standards and is, in our estimation, clearly unconstitutional,” added ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk.
SB 371 will begin going into effective on July 1. Because of an amendment to the bill, the Lafayette clinic could not be ruled out of compliance for not following the new surgical building requirements until January 1, 2014, giving it an additional six-month window to make facility changes.