One day after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial bill blocking women from seeking abortions based on medical diagnoses, doctors grappled with how the measure might affect their patients.
The law, which takes effect July 1, bans the procedure if, among other restrictions, a woman requests it “solely” because a fetus has Down syndrome or any other disorder. She could legally obtain an abortion, however, in the event of a lethal fetal illness — but would have to inform the state that she chose to terminate her pregnancy.
A doctor, meanwhile, could face a wrongful-death lawsuit if an abortion is granted to a woman who requests it after learning about a pregnancy complication.
Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an Indianapolis gynecologist, said in a statement Friday that the law could dissuade physicians from performing a legal medical procedure and, by doing so, imperil their patients’ health.
“It will require a woman, during one of the most devastating times in her life after learning of a fetal anomaly, to prolong her pregnancy even if against her wishes, and to potentially assume the greater health risks associated with doing so,” Tucker-Edmonds wrote. Some women have “cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy.”
The mandate carries a host of requirements that are among the country’s strictest prohibiting abortion in the event of fetal anomaly or because of the sex or race of the fetus. It requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated and requires physicians to inform patients about perinatal hospice care for women whose babies aren’t expected to survive outside the womb.
Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the group strongly opposes the law because it could encourage a patient to withhold information from her doctor.
A woman who, for example, learned her fetus carried a severe disability may pursue an abortion from an out-of-state provider and then, out of fear, skip follow-up care from her regular doctor.
“She shouldn’t be under legal duress when she came back to where she lived,” Lawrence said. “Patients need postpartum or postoperative care. They need to be counseled for contraception. Discouraging that is highly destructive.”
Christina Francis, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Fort Wayne, Ind., who is opposed to abortion, said she believes the law will strengthen her relationships with her patients.
“Too often, women learn their baby has Down syndrome and the first thing their physician tells them about is abortion,” Francis said. “To my patients, I’d say, ‘Yes, this is not what we were expecting — everyone wants to have a healthy child — but now, you know what? That child still has potential for a significant life.”