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Indiana's Assault on Women's Health Is Being Led by a Woman

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During President Obama's 2010 health care summit at the Blair House, a table of mostly white, middle-aged and older men barked about potential changes to the health care system. Lining the walls behind them sat dozens of well-dressed women who quietly scribbled notes for these men who would decide the future of women's health care. This is nothing new: for decades, male presidents, legislators, and judges have dictated health care priorities that directly affect the lives of women.

Patricia Miller Official Press Photo

That is why it is as surprising as it is upsetting that a female senator in the Indiana state legislature, Patricia Miller, has co-sponsored HB1210, the most devastating assault on women's health care in decades.

Miller's bill already passed the Republican controlled Senate and has been forwarded to the House after which it will likely be signed into law by Governor Daniels. Among other pro-life proscriptions, HB1210 disallows all Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood or other organizations that "perform abortions or maintain or operate a facility where abortions are performed." In other words, Medicaid will no longer pay for any services -- mammograms, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, routine physicals, etc. -- provided at a facility even tangentially associated with abortion services.

Other provisions of the bill are largely aimed at making the heartbreakingly difficult decision to have an abortion even more traumatic. For instance, it mandates that the pregnant woman must "view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone if the fetal heart tone is audible" unless she certifies in writing prior to the abortion that she does not wish to do this. It also stipulates that physicians underscore a series of potential side effects related to abortion procedures: danger of infection and hemorrhaging, danger to future pregnancies, danger of infertility, and other miscellaneous dangers.

Ironically, this overtly "pro-life" legislation actually endangers the lives of tens of thousands of Indiana women who rely on Planned Parenthood and similar clinics for their basic health care.

I suspect that Miller has never set foot in a Planned Parenthood location. Had she, Miller would be aware that unlike traditional medical clinics and hospitals which can feel sterile, judgmental, and impersonal, Planned Parenthood offers a warm, friendly, and inviting environment to discuss deeply personal issues regarding sexual health. This environment welcomes those who might otherwise abstain from seeking care -- the poor, the young, and the marginalized.

A vote for Miller's legislation is assuredly a vote to increase the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, cervical cancer, and breast cancer in Indiana. For example, between 2008 and 2009 reported cases of HIV and Chlamydia rose in spite of the massive educational initiatives led by clinics such as Planned Parenthood. If Miller's legislation bars the state's most vulnerable population from using these expertly staffed facilities, more individuals are destined to become ill.

This legislation also reduces choice by dictating from whom low-income women and men must receive their medical care. The hypocrisy of Republicans who railed against "Obamacare" for its potential to limit consumer choice then dictating from whom those on Medicaid must receive their coverage is painfully obvious.

Miller's legislation is also costly to Indiana taxpayers. HB 1210 requires low-income women and men to seek care from hospitals, private physicians, and other health care institutions that charge much higher fees for their services than institutions such as Planned Parenthood.

Yes, it's true, Planned Parenthood and similar clinics do perform abortions. But this is a strikingly small percentage of the total array of health services they provide (around three percent). Federal law already stipulates that public funds cannot be used to pay for abortions, and Medicaid in Indiana abides strictly by this law.

Conservatives' tendency to seemingly care only for people in the abstract is maddening. In a traditionally red state such as Indiana, it is politically profitable to champion the rights of the nameless unborn. At the same time, it is political suicide to advocate for the downtrodden and dispossessed who already walk among us.

This unnecessary, discriminatory law does nothing to create jobs or restore fiscal discipline. Instead, it increases health care costs to taxpayers and interferes with the lives and liberty of thousands of Hoosiers. Welcome to Republican health care reform.

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