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Indiana lawmakers advancing broad antiabortion bill

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Mitch Daniels may have suggested a national “truce” on contentious social issues, but the state Legislature’s emboldened Republican majority is moving ahead with what could become some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on abortion.

Lawmakers are working toward laws that would put Indiana among the states with the earliest pregnancy time at which abortions are illegal and require women seeking the procedure to be told in writing that they could face a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.

Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero said he believes the new provisions in his bill would make Indiana one of the “most pro-life states in the country.”

“The goal is to have less abortion in the state and I think these are things that will accomplish it,” said Turner, who has sponsored anti-abortion legislation throughout his 21 years in the House.

Republican victories in last November’s election swept them back into control of the Indiana House, where previous Democratic majorities had blocked anti-abortion bills coming from the GOP-dominated Senate.

Turner’s bill cleared the House 72-23 on March 30 and a similar proposal won Senate approval 39-9 in February. A Senate committee is expected in the coming week to consider advancing the House bill ahead of the April 29 deadline for the legislative session to end.

Abortion-rights supporters say the proposed restrictions would harm women and their doctor-patient relationship.

“The November election unleashed a juggernaut — an assault on women, an assault on reproductive health care,” said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

A version of the bill appears likely to reach Daniels, a Republican who riled some conservatives last year when he said that the next president facing an economic crisis “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues.”

Daniels urged legislators to concentrate on matters such as the state budget and changes to the state education system. Spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said Daniels would review the final version of any anti-abortion bill before deciding whether to sign it into law.

“He’s laid out his agenda and he’s identified what his priorities are,” Jankowski said. “He fully realizes that with 150 legislators that there are lots of different priorities among those members.”

The House-approved bill would have Indiana join two other states — Nebraska and North Carolina — in banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman’s life or health, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization that supports abortion rights.

Such bans after 20 weeks are direct challenges to the legal status quo, based on Supreme Court rulings that permit abortions up to the point of a fetus’ viability — about 24 weeks — which is the current Indiana law.

The Indiana proposal includes requiring that women seeking an abortion be told that human life begins at conception and that a fetus might feel pain at or before 20 weeks. The bill also requires written notice that women undergoing abortions face a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer.

Those provisions anger opponents, who say medical researchers dispute any increased risk of breast cancer and argue that putting into law that life starts at egg fertilization is based on ideology, not science.

"Expecting a doctor to give inaccurate information to a patient is just totally unreasonable and we shouldn’t even be asking a physician to do something like that,” said Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond.

Another proposed provision would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital. Supporters say that would improve patient safety, but opponents argue it is simply meant to further limit access to abortions.

The bill would also require that pregnant women be given an opportunity to view an ultrasound image and hear the fetal heartbeat before an abortion.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she believed there was considerable support in the Senate for the measure and that she expected the health committee that she leads would advance much of it for approval.

"Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land and nothing in this bill is going to change Roe v. Wade,” Miller said.

Anti-abortion groups say there have always been majorities in the Legislature for additional restrictions, but that their cause was boosted with the election of numerous social conservatives last year.

“We’ve had so many years in the wilderness when the Democratic-controlled House wouldn’t even let bills be heard,” said Sue Swayze, legislative affairs director of Indiana Right to Life. “It seems like a flood of bills because there have been so few in the past few years.”

Cockrum, the Planned Parenthood leader, said she expected the ban on abortions after 20 weeks and other proposed provisions could be challenged in court.

But Turner, the House sponsor of the legislation, said he believed the state would be on solid legal ground.

“I think every one of those provisions have been adopted by some states,” Turner said. “I don’t think we’re pushing the envelope.”

Opponents of the legislation say its backers haven’t been willing to consider reasonable changes and are intent on pushing it through.

“I don’t know that there’s anything we can do stop a lot of this,” said Lawson, the second-ranking House Democrat. “It’s a runaway train."



Posted 4/11/2011




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