Indiana abortion law: Gov. Pence approves new restrictions

The new law, prohibits abortions based on sex, race, ancestry, and prenatal disability diagnoses. Planned Parenthood is expected to challenge the law in court.

AJ Mast/AP
The Indiana House listens to a report on a bill dealing with scholarships for teachers during the final day of the legislative session at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, March 10.

Indiana become the second US state to ban abortions based on prenatal disability diagnoses.

The bill, which was signed into law on Thursday by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, also prohibits women from electing to have an abortion based on race, sex, or ancestry.

"I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable – the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn," said Governor Pence in a statement.

Nationally, the debate over abortion has become increasingly heated in recent years, with many states placing legal restrictions on the practice, as Henry Gass reported for the Monitor last month:

The vast majority – 94 percent – of pregnancy terminations are conducted in stand-alone clinics, as opposed to hospitals or doctor's offices. The number of these facilities that perform 400 or more abortions a year has dropped from a peak of 705 in the late 1980s to 553 in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank that supports reproductive rights.

The closures have been felt in all corners of the country. While many of the clinics have shuttered in states that have adopted new regulations on abortion clinics, a broader array of pressures are taking their toll on clinics in states that are friendlier to them.

Texas lawmakers have passed 13 such regulations between 2011 and 2015 – the constitutionality of aspects of one bill are now being challenged in the Supreme Court – during which time 30 abortion providers in the state have shut down.

North Dakota became the first state to prohibit abortion on the basis of disability diagnoses in 2013. Seven states prohibit abortion based on the unborn child's gender and Arizona is the only other state to include stipulation based in the race of the child, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Indiana’s newest abortion law would prevent abortion based on all of these factors. It will particularly impact parents who choose to abort after a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome or similar disability. The law also prevents abortion clinics from disposing of fetal remains in a manner other than cremation or burial.

Pence has been known for his opposition to abortion since he was in Congress, and he has continued his opposition throughout his time as governor.

Opponents of the legislation say the law goes too far and seeks to whittle away a woman's right to choose abortion affirmed by the landmark US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The legislation was most popular with Republicans, although even some conservative members of the state legislature opposed Pence’s decision. Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer (R), for example, says the legislation is too restrictive.

Reactions from Indiana citizens have been similarly split. While more conservative residents, such as the members of the Indiana Right to Life Group support Pence’s decision, others agree with legislators like Kirchhofer, who say the legislation is too restrictive.

"By signing the dignity for the unborn bill, Gov. Pence has again signified his commitment to protecting life," said the president of the Indiana Right to Life group, Mike Fichter, in a statement. "We are pleased that our state values life no matter an individual's potential disability, gender or race."

A petition for Pence to veto the bill had 5,600 names on Thursday. The petition cites the law’s potential to create "shame, stigma and barriers at a time when the most critical need is medically accurate information and compassionate care.”

Others point out that the bill will have an emotional as well as a physical impact on women and families who will no longer have certain reproductive choices after the bill goes into effect.

"We know that you're going to be forcing woman and families to suffer emotionally because they're going to be forced to carry pregnancies that are not viable," said director of communications for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Kate Connors, according to the Associated Press. "We've been hoping that the resounding chorus of voices would hit home. It obviously did not."

The bill is due to go into effect this summer, but Planned Parenthood plans to ask a court to block the legislation.

"It is clear that the governor is more comfortable practicing medicine without a license than behaving as a responsible lawyer,” said Planned Parenthood leader Betty Cockrum in a statement, “as he picks and chooses which constitutional rights are appropriate.”

Pence is facing a re-election campaign this fall against Democrat John Gregg, who says he would have vetoed the bill.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

In advance of this month's Supreme Court hearing, the Monitor examined abortion in Texas in a three-part series looking at those most affected by the Texas law, the 'pro-life' answer to abortion clinics, and how hard it is to get an abortion in the state.

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