On Wednesday morning, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) approved Senate Enrolled Act 371, a measure that imposes unnecessary restrictions on non-surgical abortion clinics with the specific goal of forcing a Planned Parenthood location to end its abortion care. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, in conjunction with the ACLU, has vowed to fight the new law and will very likely challenge it in court.
Since the fight to pass SEA 371 is a prime example of the way that anti-choice lawmakers strategically advance this type of legislation — known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP — it’s worth looking back at the history of the bill to track its successful course through the state legislature.
The legislation was always intended to limit access to medication abortions, which allow women to safely terminate an early pregnancy by taking the RU-486 abortion pill rather than having a surgical procedure. But when it was first introduced in February, it was even more stringent. In its original form, SEA 371 would have required women to undergo two invasive, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound procedures, both before and after taking the RU-486 pill. Predictably, that provision erupted into controversy. Ever since Virginia garnered national attention for its own forced transvaginal ultrasound bill at the height of last year’s outcry over the GOP’s “War on Women,” that type of vaginal probe has become somewhat of a symbol of anti-choice politicians’ overreach into women’s personal medical decisions.
Abortion opponents in Indiana didn’t want to drop their measure altogether, but they did want to assuage the public outrage. So the Indiana Senate removed the bill’s second ultrasound requirement, amending the provision to require just one probe, to ensure its passage. A month later, a House committee removed the other requirement as well, dropping the forced transvaginal provision altogether. At the time, the Associated Press reported that the head of the state’s major anti-choice group, Indiana Right to Life, explained that they agreed with the decision to drop the ultrasound requirement from SEA 371 because “debate over it in the state Senate had taken focus away from its goal of tightening regulations on clinics that provide abortions.”
That’s a common tactic for the anti-choice lawmakers who are pushing through an ever-increasing number of stringent abortion restrictions on the state level. By proposing far-right legislation and then agreeing to soften it, legislators are able to position their anti-abortion bills as more reasonable and moderate. This dynamic played out in Arkansas earlier this year, when the legislature began considering an extreme “fetal heartbeat” bill that would have banned abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy. After amending the bill to push the cut-off back to 12 weeks — which is still a blatantly unconstitutional attack on reproductive rights — it seemed as though lawmakers has compromised. The bill passed.
Women’s health advocates warn that the TRAP laws, such as Indiana’s newly approved measure, actually represent one of the most serious attacks to reproductive freedom in the nation — exactly because lawmakers are able to successfully pass them off as moderate. Requiring abortion clinics to adhere to safety standards seems like common sense, and it’s easy for Republican lawmakers to make the case that they’re simply worried about protecting women’s safety. In reality, however, laws like SEA 371 are incredibly effective methods of limiting women’s reproductive options by targeting abortion providers with expensive, complicated requirements that ultimately force clinics to shut down.
TRAP laws simply don’t spark as much widespread outrage as other types of restrictions, like transvaginal ultrasounds — and that’s exactly what anti-abortion Republicans are counting on.