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Doctors raise concerns on Indiana abortion law

by Danielle Paquette The Washington Post | March 27, 2016 at 3:12 a.m.

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill to block some women from seeking abortions based on medical diagnoses, doctors grappled with the measure's effect.

The law, which takes effect July 1, bans the procedure if, among other restrictions, a woman requests it "solely" because a fetus has Down syndrome or any other disorder. A woman could legally have an abortion in the event of a lethal fetal illness -- but would have to inform the state that she chose to terminate her pregnancy.

A doctor, meanwhile, could face a wrongful-death lawsuit if an abortion were granted to a woman who requested one after learning about a pregnancy complication.

Brownsyne Tucker-Edmonds, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, said in a statement Friday that the measure, which Pence signed Thursday, could dissuade physicians from performing a legal medical procedure and, by doing so, imperil patients' health.

"It will require a woman, during one of the most devastating times in her life after learning of a fetal anomaly, to prolong her pregnancy even if against her wishes, and to potentially assume the greater health risks associated with doing so," Tucker-Edmonds said.

Some women have "cases in which the risk of death during a full-term pregnancy is more than 14 times higher than for a termination of pregnancy."

Pence, a Republican who called the move "a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life," supported the legislation despite pushback from Republican women in the statehouse.

Indiana outlaws abortions after 20 weeks, and the law adds a series of new restrictions that abortion advocates call the country's strictest.

It would make the state the U.S.' second, after North Dakota, to prohibit abortion because of a fetal anomaly. It would ban the procedure in instances where the choice stems from the fetus' sex or race.

It also would make Indiana the first state to require that fetal remains be buried or cremated. And it would require physicians to inform patients about perinatal hospice care, a service for women whose babies aren't expected to survive outside the womb.

Hal Lawrence, chief executive of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the group, comprising about 30,000 doctors nationwide, strongly opposes the law because it could encourage a patient to withhold information from her doctor.

A woman who, for example, learned that her fetus carried a severe disability may pursue an abortion from an out-of-state provider and then, out of fear, skip follow-up care from her regular doctor, Lawrence said.

"She shouldn't be under legal duress when she came back to where she lived," said Lawrence, who practiced gynecology for 30 years.

"Patients need postpartum or postoperative care. They need to be counseled for contraception. Discouraging that is highly destructive."

Betty Cockrum, head of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, suggested in a statement that medical decisions should stay between doctors and patients.

"It is clear the governor is more comfortable practicing medicine without a license," she wrote, "than behaving as a responsible lawyer, as he picks and chooses which constitutional rights are appropriate."

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said that it planned to attack the measure in court.

"It is fraught with unintended consequences that will prove dangerous to women," the group said in a statement. "[Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky] is now working with the [American Civil Liberties Union] of Indiana to seek judicial review and fully expects to file a complaint and request for preliminary injunction."

But Christina Francis, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Fort Wayne, Ind., who is opposed to abortion, said she believes the law will strengthen her relationships with patients.

"Too often, women learn their baby has Down syndrome and the first thing their physician tells them about is abortion," Francis said.

"To my patients, I'd say, 'Yes, this is not what we were expecting -- everyone wants to have a healthy child -- but now, you know what? That child still has potential for a significant life."

That conversation, she said, could lead to increased follow-up care and a healthy mother and child.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University and a board member of Democrats for Life, said he supports Indiana's abortion restrictions but wonders how they will be enforced.

"What do you say?" Camosy said. "Are you having this abortion because the baby has Down syndrome?"

Regardless, he said, the attention on babies with disorders or on alternatives to abortion, such as perinatal hospice care, could inspire women to take more time to consider all their options.

"There will be a way," he said, "to take care of the child that's pain-free and dignified."

A Section on 03/27/2016

Print Headline: Doctors raise concerns on Indiana abortion law

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