Health

The Crazy New Ways Indiana Will Restrict Abortion

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Reproductive rights advocates are warning that Indiana has become one of the most dangerous states for pregnant women, thanks to the governor’s decision to approve a sweeping new anti-abortion law that combines some of the harshest attacks on reproductive rights into one piece of legislation.

Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed HB 1337 into law behind closed doors late Thursday afternoon — the last possible day for him to take action on the closely watched measure, after Indiana’s legislature passed the omnibus bill earlier this month.

“I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families,” the staunchly anti-choice governor said in a statement.

Indiana already tightly regulates abortion. Now, HB 1337 puts forth a laundry list of additional restrictions that lawmakers haven’t previously been able to get passed.

The legislation includes several provisions that fit into a larger strategy to shame women for the reasons they may decide to end a pregnancy. Women will be prohibited from choosing an abortion based on their fetuses’ gender, a policy that’s based on racist assumptions about Asian American women’s attitudes toward daughters. Women will also be barred from choosing an abortion if their fetus has genetic abnormalities like Down Syndrome, a rare restriction — only North Dakota has successfully enacted it so far — that seeks to drive a wedge between the abortion rights community and the disability rights community.

Doctors will be held liable if the state determines they performed an abortion on a patient who had one of those motivations in mind. It’s unclear exactly how this policy will be enforced in practice. But leading medical groups warn that it could compromise the doctor-patient relationship by chilling open conversation about pregnancy decisions.

There's more. HB 1337 also imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors, requiring them to obtain "admitting privileges" at local hospitals, that are designed to drive them out of business. It requires the remains of miscarried or aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. And it restricts the donation of fetal tissue, a crucial tool in medical research that's come under fire thanks to a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood that construes the practice as "selling baby parts."

It's a dizzying number of restrictions packed into a single omnibus bill.

“Seeing them all in one place, that is very striking,” Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor, told the New York Times after Pence gave his official approval to HB 1337. "It’s like the kitchen sink: Everything that isn’t already in the law. And the law is already really restrictive."

HB 1337 is so extreme that even pro-life Republicans in the state have spoken out against it. Several GOP women raised concerns on the House floor. “The bill does nothing to save innocent lives. There’s no education, there’s no funding. It’s just penalties,” Rep. Sharon Negele, a Republican who has previously sponsored anti-abortion legislation, said.

Indiana has already sparked widespread outrage for existing laws that critics say are going to dangerous lengths to criminalize pregnant women. Over the past several years, the state has pressed charges against two women of color for allegedly harming their unborn children by putting their pregnancies in jeopardy. Reproductive rights groups warn that this is part of a larger trend to punish women who have miscarriages or stillbirths, and an example of how deploying the criminal justice system against pregnant people ends up harming communities of color.

"Indiana is not a safe place for pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or miscarriage," Jenni Kotting, the communications director at the National Network of Abortion Funds, a grassroots network that works to help low-income people afford the cost of abortion, said in a press statement. "Gov. Pence has devalued the lives and livelihoods of pregnant people by signing HB 1337 into law."

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said it was "outraged and alarmed" over Pence's decision to approve the legislation. In partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union, the women's health organization is readying a potential lawsuit against HB 1337.