Abortion Consent Law Before Ind. Legislature
Sunday, February 12, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS -- Women seeking an abortion in Indiana would be told that life begins at conception under a proposal that would give the state one of the furthest-reaching abortion consent laws in the country.
Only South Dakota has gone as far in what it orders doctors to tell women before they can get abortions, and that law has been blocked by a court.
Supporters say the legislation would provide women with key information before they make an irreversible decision, but critics argue it blurs the line between church and state and could infringe on doctors' First Amendment rights.
"To put our religion or faithful beliefs into a statute that's going to be law, without being able to back it up scientifically, I have real hard questions about doing that," said state Rep. John D. Ulmer (R), who voted against the bill.
Indiana is one of 29 states with "informed consent" laws that require women seeking an abortion to receive information about the procedure, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on reproductive health issues.
Most require that women be told that assistance is available for prenatal care, childbirth and infant care if they decide to carry their pregnancy to term. Three states -- Arkansas, Nevada and Wisconsin -- provide information about the possible psychological effects of abortion.
Only South Dakota has beginning-of-life language similar to Indiana's proposal, which would require women seeking an abortion to be informed in writing that "human life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm."
Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota challenged South Dakota's law, saying it infringed on doctors' First Amendment rights. No trial date has been set, but U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier of Rapid City granted a preliminary injunction last year blocking enforcement of the law, saying the plaintiffs have a good chance of winning.
The Indiana bill would require abortion providers to tell women that a fetus may be able to feel pain. Such notice is required in Arkansas, Georgia and Minnesota, but those states specify that it applies to fetuses at 20 weeks gestation or later, while Indiana's proposal does not specify a gestation period.
The proposal cleared the Republican-controlled House on a 70 to 30 vote Feb. 1; a committee of the GOP-led Senate is set to consider the bill this month.
State Rep. Tim Harris (R), the Indiana bill's House sponsor, said he did not intend to restrict abortion. "We in no way infringe on a woman's right to an abortion," he said. "That's still legal. That is still the law of the land."
Supporters say the bill would give women information they need.
Dorothy Timbs of the National Right to Life Committee said many women seeking an abortion are told the fetus is nothing more than "a blob of tissue." She says women need to understand the consequences of an abortion for the fetus and themselves.
"This is a decision that profoundly affects both forever and is irreversible," she said. "Women deserve this information. The more they have, the better off they are."
Abortion-rights supporters say that is true only if the information is based in medical fact.
"We're seeing more and more informed consent laws passed that are politically motivated, with items in there trying to dissuade women from having abortions, rather than being politically neutral and giving women true risks and benefits," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada.