Analysis Human Rights

Indiana’s Assault on Reproductive Rights Continues, But Not Without a Fight

Emily O’Brien

Despite Indiana’s hostility to reproductive freedom, there are many passionate and committed Hoosiers who fight for that freedom and for reproductive justice issues, such as the Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition.

Indiana’s record on reproductive rights is among the worst in the nation, and some (mostly male) Hoosier legislators seem determined to continue that trend in 2017. While the most extreme proposed bill that would have banned and criminalized all abortions, HB 1134, was stalled in committee, two other major anti-choice bills are still being considered in the state legislature. These bills show an extreme lack of compassion for and understanding of the needs of Hoosier families by seeking to decrease abortion access under false pretenses.

HB 1128, or “Informed Consent Requirements for Abortion Drugs,” was introduced on January 5 by Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Evansville). It would require abortion providers to inform patients obtaining medical abortions that “a chemical abortion may be possibly arrested or reversed“—despite the fact that the majority of the medical community believes the opposite. There are no American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines to support this inaccurate notion of abortion reversal, and forcing abortion providers to instruct their patients otherwise is immoral and goes against standard medical practice.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the so-called scientific basis for HB 1128 and similar bills of its nature came from a 2012 study conducted by George Delgado, who conveniently serves as medical director for a crisis pregnancy center’s program known as “Abortion Pill Reversal” (APR). The study, titled “Progesterone Use to Reverse the Effects of Mifepristone,” claims that progesterone can be used to reverse mifepristone, one of the pills used in medication abortions. However, the study was undertaken with only six subjects, with no oversight from an ethical or institutional review committee and with no controls (women received varying amounts of progesterone). Further, it produced findings that have not been replicated by any other doctor or scientist.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the side effects of taking large amounts of progesterone have not been studied for this procedure and could put women’s lives at risk. According to ACOG, higher amounts of progesterone could cause substantial “cardiovascular, nervous system and endocrine adverse reactions as well as other side effects.”

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Much like other anti-choice policies, HB 1128 centers on the frightening notion that scientific evidence is subject to opinion. This type of legislation, however, is a relatively new example of laws designed to deceive people out of seeking abortion care. Indiana’s proposed HB 1128 has almost identical language to South Dakota’s HB 1157, which was signed into law in March 2016, despite the fact that similar laws passed in Arizona and Ohio in 2015 were either repealed or overturned. Utah and Colorado have also proposed similar bills this January.

Indiana’s SB 118, meanwhile, is a far more common TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) law that exists solely to restrict abortion access. Introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne), the bill mandates that abortion providers perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on patients and legally forces patients to view the ultrasound and listen to the fetal heart tone, whether they want to or not.

Similar ultrasound laws to SB 118 have already been struck down by the Oklahoma State Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in North Carolina, and last year’s HEA 1337 (another TRAP law proposed in Indiana that would have banned abortions based on disability, race, or gender, as well as adding additional mandatory ultrasound requirements) is pending a final ruling after the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit against the bill and acquired a preliminary injunction last year. Legally and morally, anti-choice politicians have no right to force a pregnant person to look at an ultrasound before an abortion procedure.

In addition, SB 118 seeks to add 30 hours to the current state-imposed 18-hour waiting period for abortions. This is particularly troubling for Indiana: In 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, two-thirds of Indiana women lived in the 95 percent of state counties with no abortion clinic.

Due to the extra travel time, logistics, and child-care costs waiting periods can incur—in combination with the added expenses from ultrasounds—SB 118 would make it even more difficult for Hoosiers to exercise their legal rights to choose.

Both of these anti-abortion bills rely on coercion and deception as a way to attempt to shame women into giving birth against their will. They imply that without waiting periods, ultrasound viewing, or false information about “reversal,” those seeking the procedure will regret it. However, contrary to the narratives these legislators put forth, 94 percent of abortion patients report that they felt sure of their decisions. This further shows SB 118 and HB 1128 as what they are—a veiled attempt to make abortions inaccessible, and yet another example of Indiana’s need to stop pushing for policies that hurt Hoosier families.

Legislation that makes abortion more expensive or difficult to obtain has a tangible effect on Indiana women. Research indicates that abortions are most common for low-income women who are more likely to have no access to contraception—nationally, low-income women obtained 75 percent of abortions in 2014, and six in ten abortions are obtained by women who already have at least one other child. Additionally, thanks to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding from going toward the vast majority of abortions, one in four women on Medicaid who seek abortions cannot obtain them due to lack of funding. This has a disproportionate effect on women of color: 30 percent of Black women and 24 percent of Latina women are insured by Medicaid, compared to 14 percent of white women nationally. And in November 2016, about 1.5 million Hoosiers were enrolled in Medicaid85 percent of non-elderly adults on Medicaid in Indiana were women.

What Indiana should be doing is providing services and funding for reproductive health services to assist state residents. Instead, Hoosier legislators are putting their extreme political agendas ahead of the needs of their constituents yet again by trying to make abortion inaccessible.

Despite Indiana’s hostility to reproductive freedom, there are many passionate and committed Hoosiers who fight for that freedom and for reproductive justice issues, such as the Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition (IRJC), of which I am a member. Based on the reproductive justice framework created by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, IRJC is committed to an intersectional feminist approach to championing reproductive freedom, and includes several organizations from across the state.

Due to the persistent attacks on abortion access in Indiana year after year, the anti-choice bills discussed here are a high priority on IRJC’s resist list.  On January 11 of this year, IRJC delivered a petition against Indiana’s proposed anti-abortion bills, along with letters to the editor and press releases in various Hoosier news outlets. It is also hosting petition-making events and planning further actions against the bills for the months to come. After that, the coalition plans to continue its work to both oppose bills that pose a risk to Hoosier families, and to support bills that will benefit them.

However, the coalition is committed to advocating for all aspects of reproductive freedom. This includes all forms of reproductive health care, such as contraception and abortion, the right to access these services, and policies that make access possible.

As IRJC member Harmony Glenn from Indy Feminists put it to me:

Indy Feminists has always been committed to an intersectional understanding of feminism. Yes, our members are primarily women, but we’re also Black, and other races. We’re queer. We’re poor. We’re students. We need health care and a living wage. We need not only abortion care, but pre-natal care and childcare. We need clean air and public transportation. If it affects people, it’s a feminist issue. That’s why IRJC is so important, and why we’re proud to be a part of it.

The high rates of poverty in the Hoosier state, particularly among women and families, should be a wake-up call to Indiana lawmakers. Specifically, they should signal a real need and urgency for policies that champion complete access to all health care and support options for Hoosier families, including and beyond abortion care.

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