The Indiana state Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure both before and after having a medication-induced abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The Senate Health and Provider Services Committee approved Senate Bill 371 on Wednesday by a vote of 7 to 5, sending it to a full vote in the state Senate. The bill, introduced by state Sen. Travis Holdman (R), imposes heavy regulations on clinics and physicians that offer medication abortions, which are generally used to end a pregnancy up to 10 weeks from a woman's last period. It would require women to be presented with the sound and image of the fetal heartbeat before the abortion and to return for a follow-up ultrasound to ensure that she is no longer pregnant and has stopped bleeding.
Dr. Anne Davis, the consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said the requirement would place an undue burden on women seeking to end their pregnancies. "She can do a blood test at any local facility after an abortion to show that the hormone levels are going down as they should, there's no medical reason to make her drive back to the abortion clinic and go through another ultrasound," she said. "This is yet another onerous, medically unnecessary barrier."
Both ultrasounds, abortion physicians explain, would likely have to be performed with a transvaginal probe, since medication abortions usually occur too early in the pregnancy for the external "jelly-on-the-belly" procedure to provide a clear image. Davis said that transvaginal ultrasounds are the "standard procedure" used for first-trimester abortions and that they can be "physically or emotionally uncomfortable." Requiring two of these ultrasounds, she said, would be medically unnecessary, and would make abortion access more difficult for poor and rural women who cannot get time off work, need to make childcare arrangements and have long distances to drive.
Holdman, the bill's sponsor, did not return The Huffington Post's calls for comment. Sue Swayze, the legislative director of Indiana Right to Life, told local radio station WBAA that that goal of the bill is to protect women's safety and hold abortion clinics to higher health standards. She said she does not understand why it would be a problem to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds.
“I got pregnant vaginally," she said. "Something else could come in my vagina for a medical test that wouldn’t be that intrusive to me. So I find that argument a little ridiculous.”
In addition to mandating two ultrasounds, the bill requires all clinics that provide medication abortions to meet the same building standards as surgical facilities, even if the clinic does not perform surgical abortions. If the bill passes, it will likely be so cost-prohibitive that the Planned Parenthood facility in Lafayette, Ind., the only abortion provider in the county, will be forced to stop offering abortions.
"It's absurd on its face that because a doctor is handing a patient pills, we need to deal with door sizes and hallway widths," said Betty Cockrum, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Indiana. "The first pill is taken on site, and the remainder of the medication leaves with the patient, and with her own time and space she completes the procedure. What's the relevance of a doorway width at that point?"
Davis, who regularly performs abortions at her practice in New York, said she is frustrated that legislators with no medical background are passing laws that regulate how she deals with patients.
"It makes me feel crazy," she said. "If they called me and said, 'Dr. Davis, do you think what the federal reserve is doing is appropriate for the economy?' I would say, 'I dunno, ask an economist.' You see the kind of stuff they come up with, and it has nothing to do with reality. None of this stuff is really trying to make abortion safer for women. It's just making it harder and scarier."
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