UPDATE, July 31, 4:44 p.m.: The Indiana State Department of Health on Monday informed Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) that it could resume providing abortion care at the Merrillville health center, according to a written statement from PPINK.
As Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote Tuesday to move forward with a potential repeal of health insurance coverage for millions, his efforts to gut reproductive health care continue to reverberate in his home state of Indiana.
A Planned Parenthood health center in the northwestern town of Merrillville has temporarily stopped providing abortions because of medically unnecessary admitting privilege requirements signed by Pence when he was Indiana’s governor. The clinic is still providing family planning and other services.
“We have every confidence that we will be providing abortion care for our patients at our Merrillville health center soon,” Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) president and CEO Christie Gillespie said in an emailed statement.
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Pence signed a law in 2014 requiring doctors who provide abortion care to have written admitting privileges or a written agreement with a back-up physician who has such privileges at a hospital in the county where the abortions are performed, or a contiguous county. Such privileges can be difficult to obtain, particularly since about one in four Indiana hospitals follow Catholic religious directives that restrict many forms of reproductive health care.
Pence in 2016 signed an omnibus anti-choice law considered among the most sweeping in the country that, among other provisions, required the state to annually submit a copy of these admitting privileges and back-up agreements to all hospitals in neighboring areas.
That publicity can be a burden for doctors, particularly if they work for one of Indiana’s many Catholic hospitals.
“When your information is spread throughout not only the county that you’re working in, but the surrounding counties … that gets pretty hostile pretty quickly,” PPINK Communications and Marketing Director Ali Slocum told Rewire. “It’s pretty daunting and hostile and terrifying for people who are just trying to provide care.”
The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) informed Planned Parenthood in a July 18 letter that the doctor who had a back-up admitting privileges agreement with the Planned Parenthood Merrillville clinic had ended that relationship on July 13. No abortions took place at the clinic in between those dates, Slocum said.
ISDH sent Rewire a copy of letter with the names of a Planned Parenthood administrator and the doctor redacted. A copy of the same letter posted by the anti-choice group Indiana Right to Life did not have the administrator’s name redacted. An ISDH spokesperson did not respond to a question about the discrepancy.
Indiana Right to Life president and CEO Mike Fichter, who did not immediately respond to a call from Rewire, told the Indianapolis Star that the organization became aware of the cessation of abortions at the Merrillville clinic through a “routine public information request,” the paper reported.
Fichter told the Star two other clinics have closed in Indiana since the 2014 admitting privileges law passed. Indiana now has five abortion clinics located in three counties.
The reduction of services at the Merrillville clinic comes as Methodist Hospitals, which runs hospitals in Merrillville and neighboring Gary, considers a merger with Franciscan Health that could further curtail reproductive health access in the area by bringing Methodist’s facilities under the Catholic directives.
Brie Shea contributed to reporting for this article.