Panels back tighter abortion law, ending gun permits

By TOM DAVIES
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana legislators advanced two measures Monday that join Republican-led drives across the country to tighten abortion laws and loosen gun restrictions.

One Indiana House committee voted 9-3 in favor of a bill that would require doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions about a disputed treatment that could stop the abortion process, while another Republican-dominated committee endorsed repealing the state law requiring a permit to carry a handgun in public.

The abortion bill with the so-called “abortion reversal” provision also includes a requirement for notarization of a parent’s signature allowing abortion for women younger than 18 years old.

Abortion opponents argue the bill ensures that women who may change their minds about ending their pregnancies have information about stopping the process by taking a different drug after having taken the first of the two drugs for a medication abortion. Abortion-rights supporters maintain doctors would be forced to provide dubious information to their patients.

At least six states already require doctors to tell women that it may be possible to reverse a medication abortion, while laws in some other states, including Tennessee, have been blocked by legal challenges.

Medical groups say the “reversal" process is not backed up by science, and there is little information about the procedure’s safety.

Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, called the proposal “anti-science.”

“The state legislature should not mandate a physician to tell a patient these falsehoods that could ultimately endanger their patients’ lives,” Wilkinson said.

Medication abortions accounted for 44% of the roughly 7,600 abortions performed in Indiana during 2019, according to the state health department’s most recent statistics.

Dr. Christina Francis, a Fort Wayne physician who is board chair for the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, maintained that some studies have shown the “reversal” process can be effective and that it is unethical for doctors to force patients to perform internet searches to find out about it.

“If we truly care about women being able to make informed choices that should include knowing there’s an option if they change their mind,” Francis said. “Why would we want women to live with her regret if they don’t have to?”

Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature has adopted numerous abortion restrictions over the past decade, with several of them later blocked by challenges in federal court.

Among those challenges, a federal judge in 2019 ruled against the state’s ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure that the legislation called “dismemberment abortion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 also rejected Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the state’s ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. However, it upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis questioned whether the new proposal would leave the state facing another expensive lawsuit.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Peggy Mayfield, of Martinsville, said she wasn’t concerned about such costs.

“I think the priority is on saving babies and not whether or not someone wants to take us to court, because we win some and we lose some,” Mayfield said.

Meanwhile, the repeal of Indiana’s handgun permit law, which a House committee approved in a 9-3 vote, would allow any resident to carry a handgun unless for reasons including previous felony convictions, being under a restraining order or having dangerous mental illnesses.

Supporters of the bill argue that requiring gun permits undermine Second Amendment protections and that violent criminals don’t obey the law. Similar bills allowing permitless gun carry are being pushed by Republican lawmakers in several states this year.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter and leaders of the state police chiefs association and Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, however, testified against the repeal last week, saying it would eliminate a valuable screening tool identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t possess handguns.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz, of Auburn, said he had agreed to delay the repeal until March 2022 to give police departments and state agencies time to develop a system for sharing information about people prohibited from having firearms.

Those seeking handgun permits pay about $5 million a year to the state in fees, along with $3.5 million in application fees that local police and sheriff departments now collect and spend on equipment and training, according to a legislative report.

Smaltz said he expected Republican budget writers would dedicate state money so that local police agencies don’t end up losing the funding.

The full Indiana House could vote on both bills in the coming week.




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