New amendment to abortion bill allows exception to protect health of mother

An Indiana House committee made significant changes Tuesday to a Republican-backed bill that would ban virtually all abortions in the state. 

They included an expanded exception that allows abortions up to 20 weeks postfertilization “to prevent a substantial permanent impairment to the life or physical health” of the mother. An earlier version of the bill only allowed the procedure to prevent the death or “irreversible impairment” of the woman.

The amendment also sets a deadline of 10 weeks postfertilization for all rape and incest survivors to be able to obtain an abortion.

Previous qualifications for those exceptions limited abortions performed in cases of rape or incest up to 12 weeks for those under the age of 16, and eight weeks for anyone aged 16 or older.

The House Courts and Criminal Code committee also eliminated the notarized affidavit required for victims of rape or incest to access an abortion. The Senate narrowly voted to add that requirement to the bill last week.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, who chairs the committee, said the amended bill clarifies that no criminal penalties are imposed on women accessing abortions, and it removes the new criminal provisions imposed on doctors. Existing criminal laws still apply, however.

The amendment was adopted unanimously by the House committee Tuesday morning before the start of public testimony. A committee vote on the final bill is expected later today.

Democrats agreed to the changes, although Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he still has “a lot of problems” with the bill overall.

“This (amendment) fixes a lot of problems that were created in the Senate,” Pierce said. “As you can imagine, there are still a lot of problems that remain.”

The House amendment also eliminated a provision that would allow the state attorney general to take over prosecution of abortion-related cases if a local prosecutor refuses to. The language was added to the bill in the Senate last week.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, who authored the amendment, signaled that it was aimed at Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, who said last month that he would not prosecute abortion-related cases if the state Legislature criminalized the procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The new bill language adopted Tuesday instead creates a task force to study any instances in which local prosecutors make “blanket” refusals to prosecute certain laws. The task force is charged with making a report by Dec. 1, before the next legislative session.

The latest bill language states explicitly that the abortion ban does not apply to cases where the fetus is diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly, or in vitro fertilization.

Senators debated the bill for more than three hours on Saturday before voting to advance the bill to the House during a special legislative session.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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