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February 25, 2013

Indiana Senate drops second required abortion ultrasound

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposed requirement that doctors must try to perform a second ultrasound exam on women after they received abortion-inducing drugs was dropped Monday by the Indiana Senate.

In the bill on abortion pill regulations, doctors still would have to perform an ultrasound exam on the woman before providing the drugs, which opponents say is a step that wrongly interferes in medical decisions between a doctor and patient. The bill also requires doctors to schedule a follow-up visit about two weeks after providing the abortion medication, but the woman is not required to show up.

Senators, in a unanimous voice vote, approved the change in the bill that would force clinics that provide only abortion drugs to have the same facilities and equipment as surgical abortion clinics

Opponents have attacked the bill’s ultrasound provisions, saying it would essentially require a transvaginal procedure, though the bill doesn’t specify what type of ultrasound must be done.

The proposal faces a full Senate vote on Tuesday, which would then send it to the Republican-controlled House.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, sponsored the move to drop the second ultrasound and replace it with a requirement that doctors perform “appropriate testing.” Alting said that would give doctors the option of performing blood or urine tests on their patients.

“I think that physicians know a little bit more about that particular area than legislators,” Alting said.

But when asked why his amendment didn’t remove the requirement for a pre-drug administration ultrasound, Alting said: “I just know that I didn’t have the votes for that to happen.”

Republicans turned aside proposed amendments from outnumbered Democrats that would have mandated certain medical exams before a doctor could prescribe erectile dysfunction drugs to men and would have extended requirements for abortion clinic facilities to offices that treat infertility and erectile dysfunction.

The full bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Travis Holdman of Markle, said he had no objections to removing the requirement for the second ultrasound but that he believed the first one was essential to help prevent the possibility of severe complications if a woman with a tubal pregnancy was given abortion-inducing drugs.

Holdman said doctors had told him that abdominal ultrasounds were typically sufficient and he believed opponents’ claims that a transvaginal procedure would be required were “a lot of hype.”

In Virginia, a proposal to give women seeking abortions a transvaginal sonogram was withdrawn last year after it met widespread opposition.

Eight other states currently have laws mandating some form of pre-abortion ultrasound exam, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion-related issues.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum said that senators were “continuing to practice medicine without a license” by including the ultrasound requirement.

“Because nonsurgical abortions are performed so early in a pregnancy, so as a diagnostic tool it is much more likely that a doctor is going to use a transvaginal probe than not,” Cockrum said.

Becky Rogness, spokeswoman for Indiana Right to Life, said the anti-abortion group was satisfied with the bill even without the second ultrasound provision.

“We feel like it was stronger with that requirement, but it’s still a huge improvement for women’s health and safety,” Rogness said. “We are eager to see it go through a pro-life House and make it to the governor’s desk.”

Conservative legislators in 2011 pushed through a law that cut off some state funding to Planned Parenthood, but federal courts have blocked it from taking effect. Republican Gov. Mike Pence unsuccessfully pushed a similar federal defunding proposal in 2011 while he was in Congress.

Cockrum said the bill’s provision on clinic regulations would likely force Planned Parenthood to stop providing abortion pill services at its Lafayette clinic, which is believed to be the only location that would be affected by the regulation changes.

Nine abortion clinics are licensed in Indiana, including three run by Planned Parenthood, according to state records.

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