Indiana abortion ban goes into effect, closing clinics

INDIANAPOLIS — It was the last day for abortions at the Women’s Med Clinic this week, and patients arrived anxiously hoping for treatment before a state abortion ban took effect Thursday.

They came with friends or sisters or alone in Ubers. Before reaching the gates of the clinic, they faced a gauntlet of protesters, some shouting “Murderers!” and “Don’t kill your baby!”

Once inside, an Indianapolis-area patient who was six weeks pregnant opted for a surgical abortion, worried that the medication might not work.

Others came from Ohio and Tennessee, which had already banned abortion (an Ohio judge temporarily suspended the state ban on Wednesday).

Another patient canceled her appointment, likely because she was traveling to Illinois, where clinics expand abortion servicessaid OB/GYN Katie McHugh.

“It’s just a little desperate feeling right now, both from a patient and provider perspective,” said McHugh, who performed abortions at this clinic and another in Bloomington, Ind. “It’s exhausting to provide this level of access knowing the end is so near.

Indiana and neighboring states braced for impact of latest abortion ban since Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June. Indiana Legislature was the first to ban abortion last monthfollowed by West Virginiabut the Indiana law only went into effect this week.

Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, first state to do so after Roe

13 other states had pre-deer abortion bans or trigger bans that went into effect after the ruling, including several surrounding Indiana: Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. These bans led to patients initially going to Indiana’s seven clinics.

Now patients will likely travel to Ohio or Illinois, where they will face waits that have recently ranged from days to weeks. Planned Parenthood of Illinois said Thursday it has added abortion services at its clinic in Champaign, just across the Indiana border, to handle the expected influx of patients.

“Indiana’s draconian abortion ban doesn’t stop people from getting abortions, it only makes it harder to access abortions in a safe and timely manner,” said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of the leadership of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Indiana law prohibits nearly all abortions except in cases of rape or incest; protect the life and physical health of the patient; or if a fetus is diagnosed with a fatal abnormality. A physician who performs an illegal abortion or fails to file required reports would lose their medical license, face a criminal penalty of up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“We view this as a major moment for Indiana life,” said Mike Fichter, CEO of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Indiana Right to Life.

Fichter said his group was working to remove the rape, incest and fetal abnormality exceptions from the law. But, he added, “We will take the gains we have now, but we are committed to moving forward to ensure all life is protected.”

Abigail Lorenzen, education coordinator for the nonprofit Right to Life of Northeast Indiana, said more than 100 pregnancy resource centers across the state are gearing up to serve more women and that her group planned to gather at local courthouses on September 24.

Just after noon Thursday, about 20 protesters gathered outside the Indiana governor’s mansion, with more protests and a march expected later in the day.

Karen Starks brought a sign in the shape of a tombstone dated from 1973 to 2022, the years when abortion was federally protected, which read, “So tired of old white men telling me what to do.”

Starks, 73, a former public school teacher, said she knows many students whose lives changed when they became pregnant.

“It was always about the girls,” she said. “Even if it takes two.”

Abortion rights supporters have filed two lawsuits to block the ban, but the courts have yet to rule on them.

“This fight is far from over,” said Amy Hagstrom-Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates clinics in multiple states.

When the new law took effect, their South Bend clinic — which has served 1,100 patients since it opened in 2019 — stopped performing abortions. But it won’t close, Hagstrom-Miller said. Like Planned Parenthood’s four Indiana abortion clinics, she said, it will continue to provide patients with other services, including referrals to states where abortion is legal.

Although people can’t get a medical abortion in Indiana via telemedicine, they can if they travel to Illinois or Minnesota, where Whole Woman’s Health operates.

“There’s still a lot we can do to help people in Indiana get abortions, even if we can’t provide them ourselves,” Hagstrom-Miller said.

The South Bend clinic performed its last abortion on Saturday but was still receiving calls asking for appointments days later, said Sharon Lau, Midwest advocacy director for Whole Woman’s Health.

“It sounded bad this morning. Some people don’t know the law is coming into effect,” Lau said.

Clinic staff referred people to Illinois and Michigan, she said, which each have more than two dozen abortion clinics (a Michigan abortion ban was struck down by a judge last week).

Indiana ranks third in the nation for maternal mortality, after Georgia and Louisiana, both of which have since enacted abortion bans. deer was overthrown.

“States banning abortion are also states that did not support the health care safety net, which meant that access to pregnancy care was limited or non-existent for many people,” Elizabeth said. Nash, senior policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights.

Nash predicted that more states would enact abortion bans in the coming months, up to 26 in total.

“We are seeing a collapse in abortion access across the country,” she said, noting South Carolina lawmakers. still considering a ban after efforts failed last week.

Indiana University Health, the largest hospital system in the state, has created a 24/7 “Rapid Reproductive Health Team”: a clinician, ethicist and attorney that providers can call to assess the impact of the law in an emergency, said Caroline Rouse, medical director of maternity services at Riley Maternity Tower in Indianapolis.

Rouse said the state health department has provided guidance to hospitals on how they can still perform abortions under the new law, including septic abortions, ectopic and molar pregnancies, “or any pregnancy where the fetus has died in utero”.

But there is no indication of what the law qualifies as risking the pregnant person’s life, she said. The state defines a “fatal fetal anomaly” as something expected to result in death within three months of birth, she said, but it’s unclear what conditions qualify. Even if doctors diagnose a fetus with anencephaly, a condition where the skull does not form above the brow line, or bilateral renal agenesis, where no kidney forms, they will likely need to call the new hotline for get help, Rouse said.

“It’s really difficult to reconcile what the law would have me do with the practical reality,” she says.

Pro-abortion protests were planned for Thursday in the Indiana capital, including a march and rally outside the governor’s mansion that Jamie Harrell, a suburban Indianapolis attorney, helped organize and planned to attend.

Harrell, 43, said she testified against the law because she had an abortion at age 25.

“It allowed me to finish my studies. It allowed me to go to law school. It allowed me to have an incredible relationship with my husband of 16 years and bring our daughter into the world when we were ready for her,” she said.

Now her daughter is 6, and Harrell fears she could be raped and not have an exemption under the law, like the 10-year-old girl raped in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana this summer to have an abortion. Harrell was encouraged to see a ballot measure that would have overturned Kansas abortion protections won this summerand finds a similar rise in activism among women in Indiana.

“The reason I fight is not just because of 10-year-olds being raped or women being forced to carry dead babies due to fetal abnormalities. It’s about my rights,” he said. Harrell said “Women are pissed off. Kansas was just the beginning.”

As the final day at the Women’s Med Clinic wore on, reality began to set in on the staff.

When a delivery man arrived with lunch and asked, “Can I get you something else?” a passing nurse joked, “Tequila.”

He laughed, then became serious.

“Good luck,” he said, “God bless you.”

Outside, a dozen demonstrators gathered, including Debi Nackenhorst.

Nackenhorst, 70, has been protesting at the clinic every week for a year, sticking a sign on her walker that reads, “Unborn life matters. Abolish abortion. As the patients arrived, she asked for their names so she could pray for them.

“As long as babies are dying, we’re here,” she said.

Clinic staff performed her last abortion at 2:18 p.m. Wednesday. By then, they had performed 27 abortions. Outside, demonstrators had disappeared.

OB/GYN Jeanne Corwin prepared to lock up. As she looked inside, she began to cry. Corwin has worked at Women’s Med since 2018.

“We saved a lot of lives there,” she said.

And then she closed the door.

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