Indiana bill would prohibit a form of second-trimester abortions

Emily Ketterer
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INDIANAPOLIS (Statehouse File) — The House Public Policy Committee withheld voting on a controversial bill that would limit second trimester abortions after hours of heated debate that dragged into the evening Wednesday.

House Bill 1211 would make performing Dilation and Evacuation abortions, which critics refer to as "dismemberment abortions," on a living fetus during or after the second trimester a level 5 felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The only exception is if the pregnancy poses a serious health risk to the woman that would result in “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

All other anti-abortion laws the General Assembly passed since 2013 have been blocked by federal judges.

Nine other states have banned the procedure, but the laws are only in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia. The others seven - Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas - are on hold because of legal challenges.

State Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville
State Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, sits at a meeting of the House Public Policy Committee Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (TheStatehouseFile.com Photo/Emily Ketterer)

The bill, authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, graphically defines a dismemberment abortion as when a fetus is extracted from a woman “one piece at a time” by using clamps or scissors to “slice, crush or grasp” a body part.

The procedure is the most common method for a second trimester abortion. Still, it remains rare overall. This procedure made up 0.35 percent of the 7,778 abortions performed in Indiana during 2017, according to the state department of health.

"The baby is literally ripped limb from limb? Jesus Christ," Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said during the hearing.

The House Public Policy Committee withheld voting on the bill after listening to more than three hours of testimony from both sides and getting into heated debate among the members Wednesday afternoon.

During the hearing, Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, said he was disappointed in the repeated use of the graphic language throughout.

"The comments today are very hyperbolic," he said. "I have heard 'torn apart limb by limb' probably 14 times.”

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which opposed the bill, stated the term "dismemberment" is not medical, and accused lawmakers of using the word to invoke fear and stigmatize women’s healthcare.

A local pediatrician, Tracey Wilkinson, was faced with the decision to have a second-trimester abortion after she found out her unborn child had possible life-threatening birth defects. This was a decision she thought she would never have to make, she said, and that choice should remain private.

“I struggled to think about how this would impact my family,” Wilkinson said. “At no point was there space for my representative to be involved with my decision.”

Dr. Katie McHugh
Dr. Katie McHugh, a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, testified before the House Public Policy Committee Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (TheStatehouseFile.com Photo/Emily Ketterer)

Dr. Katie McHugh, an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB/GYN), said she and other physicians want to offer all options, and HB 1211 would ban the safest procedure that can be performed in the second trimester. She said the alternatives may be painful and cause complications, including terminating the fetus before a D&E, which is permitted under the bill.

“What I advocate for is for women to have a choice,” McHugh said. “By taking medical decisions out of the hands of women … and instead putting them in the hands of politicians, it is extremely dangerous.”

Indiana Right to Life and National Right to Life take the position that dismemberment abortion is “barbaric.”

“To think about other children … to be pulled limb from limb, it just breaks my heart,” Ryan McCann of the Indiana Family Institute said.

Dr. Kathy Altman, a retired OB/GYN who previously performed dismemberment abortions, testified against the bill. She graphically described the procedures she performed, including making sure to count all the body parts she pulled out. She explained the many possible dangers and complications that come from the surgery, such as accidentally crushing the woman’s bladder or pulling a bowel out.

“It always made me a little nervous doing these,” Altman said.

The other piece of HB 1211 includes more specific lists of complications that may rise from an abortion, which Mayfield said were more vaguely defined last session.

If a woman received an abortion banned by this proposal and experienced complications, the bill allows for her, her parents or a prosecuting attorney to petition for an injunction against the physician who performed the procedure. If the woman dies because of the procedure, her estate, the father, and her parents (if she was under 18) can sue the doctor for damages under the bill as well.

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