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Indiana Senate panel advances restrictive abortion bill

February 23, 2017

An Indiana abortion bill meant to strengthen parental rights would require notifying parents when a daughter under the age of 18 pursues legal action to obtain an abortion without their consent.

Republican Sen. Erin Houchin's measure would counteract the judicial waiver option that allows minors to petition the court to have the procedure without involving parents or legal guardians. Instead, it would require that parents receive legal notice their minor child is seeking the waiver and give them standing to try to stop it in court.

The restrictive law would be the first of its kind, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. Of the 36 states that require parental involvement and offer an alternative judicial bypass procedure, none mandate notifying parents the minor is pursuing a bypass.

Supporters argue the step is necessary to ensure parents are involved in a potentially life-changing decision for their child, citing "medical, emotional and psychological" effects.

"It can be serious, it can be lasting, particularly when the patient is immature," said Sue Swayze Liebel, spokeswoman for Indiana Right to Life. "Parents usually possess the information that's essential to a doctor's exercise of their best medical judgment."

Opponents say it would make it impossible for minors to obtain an abortion without involving their parents — a move that the executive director of the ACLU of Indiana suggested could be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has agreed with parental involvement laws in the past only if they include a confidential judicial bypass procedure, Jane Henegar said.

Houchin's proposal requires a minor's parent or guardian "be involved and informed if she tries to get a judicial bypass, in clear violation of that confidentiality requirement," Henegar said.

Critics also contend the timeline set out in statute would be difficult, if not impossible, to uphold. Existing Indiana law requires juvenile courts to issue a ruling within 48 hours, a restriction that under Houchin's measure would have to also include time to serve parents with papers and allow for an evidentiary hearing.

Attorneys and physicians testifying in opposition to the measure asked lawmakers to consider why a minor might need the route to abortion through the judicial system.

"I understand an abortion is a sensitive issue — people have lots of deeply held feelings about it — but it's a reality and it's a legal right," said Jane Glynn, a family law attorney who has represented minors seeking judicial waivers. "Forcing girls into a no-win situation is not fair to these girls. It's not healthy for them."

In addition to giving parents notice of the judicial waiver process, the measure would increase the standard of evidence judges must consider in waiver petitions to "clear and convincing evidence" — which 16 other states have done so far — and give parents a path to legal recourse against individuals who took actions to aid their minor in obtaining the abortion.

It also requires the parents or guardians providing consent for the minor's abortion prove they are who they claim with notarized, written consent, proof of identification and documentation that establishes they are the "lawful" parent or guardian.

After more than three hours of testimony and discussion Wednesday, lawmakers on a Senate panel approved the measure in a 6-4 vote, with one Republican joining the Democrats in opposing the bill's advance to the full Senate.

Lawmakers acknowledged lingering flaws in the bill and said they hope to amend it further on the floor of the chamber during the bill's second reading.

"This bill is not finished and it isn't even close, in my opinion," said Republican Sen. Susan Glick, in explaining her vote no. "The issue of personal service and notice is a very difficult situation in this bill — and I don't think we're going to resolve that in short order."

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