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Doctors, advocates concerned for rape victims as lawmakers further restrict abortion ban bill

Data shows Indiana girls in high school are four times more likely than those in other states to experience rape.

INDIANAPOLIS — The second day of Indiana's special legislative session is in the books, with plans for the future of abortion in the state taking center stage. 

In total, 17 amendments were proposed Tuesday after more than two hours of public testimony — with some of those proposals approved by the committee to move forward to the full Senate. 

Two of the major changes to Senate Bill 1 would impact victims of rape and incest seeking abortions. 

"We shouldn't make policy to keep people from accessing the healing and care that they need," said Beth White, president and CEO of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking. 

RELATED: Abortion ban bill passes Senate committee, will move to full Senate for possible amendments

Currently, Senate Bill 1 would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, provided a pregnant person can provide an affidavit under penalty of perjury to their doctor.

"We are concerned about the chilling effect that a requirement like that will have. We have always encouraged our policymakers to respect the bodily autonomy of women to make their own healthcare choices regardless of the circumstances or where they're seeking that healthcare or anything else," White said. 

Tuesday, Republican senators proposed tightening that exception further to say children 15 years old and under who are rape and incest victims would only have 12 weeks for an abortion. Girls and pregnant people 16 years old and up would only have eight weeks to seek an abortion. 

An affidavit would still be required to have the procedure with a new amendment adding a requirement that the affidavit go into the patient's permanent medical record. It's a legal requirement that Dr. Caroline Rouse, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at IU Health, said is unusual in healthcare.

"But I am concerned about anything that puts an additional step or barrier in between the patient and the medical care they need," Rouse said. 

In Indiana and around the world, 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 

Data shows Indiana girls in high school are four times more likely than those in other states to experience rape. And, 1 in every 7 women who are raped will get pregnant.

Forcing someone to have their rapist's baby is cruel and unnecessary, White said. 

"If you experience sexual violence in your life, it should be your choice about what happens to you, what you do and how public you make your experience," White said. 

With 63% of sexual assaults going unreported to the police, doctors and advocates stress requiring an affidavit be given to the doctor may not be women using rape as an excuse to get an abortion — as some lawmakers have claimed— but rather the result of more accurate reporting. 

"Rapes are definitely underreported now for a number of different reasons, victims of rape may be afraid to report because of reprisal from the abuser, they might not want to enter into the criminal justice system, there are a wide number of reasons," Rouse said. "So, I would be worried that any increase could be misinterpreted as misreporting when in reality, it's just reporting of the numbers that are actually occurring."

"It is a very cynical view that women manipulate the criminal justice and the healthcare process by lying about experiences they've had," White said. "It is more likely they are going to deny what happened to them because of the shame and the blame and the hurdles that are put in front of them to get them the help that they need."

White said she will continue to fight and speak up to ensure rape victims can access abortion safely, calling on lawmakers to ensure the government doesn't victimize them further with more restrictions.

"It is the kind of cruel suffering that we don't have to impose on people," White said. "We just don't."

 

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