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Planned Parenthood vows to continue to fight as Indiana abortion ban takes effect


Planned Parenthood vows to continue to fight as Indiana abortion ban takes effect

Katie McHugh, OB/GYN, (left) and Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Inc., spoke to reporters Tuesday about Indiana’s new abortion law.  Photo by Marilyn Odendahl

Speaking at the Planned Parenthood facility in Indianapolis Tuesday morning, the organization’s leader and physicians emphasized while abortion services have now stopped in the state of Indiana, the clinic is open and continuing to offer a range of medical care, including assisting patients in traveling to a state where abortion remains legal.

“No matter what extremists are doing to attack your right and your choices about your own bodies, Planned Parenthood will be here for you now more than ever,” Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Inc., said during an early morning press conference. “Planned Parenthood health care centers in Indiana are here with open doors, and we’ll be here tomorrow and every single day after.”

Indiana’s near-total abortion ban was given the green light following a June 30 ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court which vacated a preliminary injunction that had been blocking the new law. Planned Parenthood and others filed a petition for a rehearing Monday, asking the justices to impose another preliminary injunction while the trial court reviews the constitutionality of the law’s limited exception for the health of the mother.

The Indiana General Assembly passed the new abortion statute, Senate Enrolled Act 1, during a special session last summer, weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade which had given women the right to abortion care. S.E.A. 1 allows an abortion if the woman’s health is in danger if the fetus has a lethal anomaly or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Although Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the law in August 2022, the abortion restrictions were put on hold in September. The Monroe County Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction after finding the new prohibitions violated the Indiana Constitution’s guarantee of liberty.

As abortion was banned in other states, including Kentucky, Planned Parenthood has recorded a 25% increase in out-of-state patients coming to Indiana for care over the past year.

Katie McHugh, an OB/GYN at Planned Parenthood, said the clinic will now tell Hoosier women they have to leave the state to obtain an abortion and will help arrange travel and care in those other states.

“Abortion is here to stay and so is abortion care,” McHugh said. “We are here to help the people in Indiana access the health care that they need, and we invite the community to join us. We challenge all Hoosiers to stand up against this oppression and to reclaim the rights to control our bodies and our futures.”

Indiana Right to Life called on the Indiana Supreme Court to clarify the status of the new abortion law, saying for thousands of unborn babies, it is a life and death issue.

“While we are pleased that some Indiana abortion businesses, at least, indicate that they are ceasing operations today, the status of the new Indiana law remains unclear,” Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said in a video statement released Tuesday. “We are hopeful that the Indiana Supreme Court quickly affirms that the new law is in effect, ending 95% of abortions in our state.”

 ‘Race to the top

McHugh said Planned Parenthood has already seen people become desperate since S.E.A. 1 was signed into law even though it was not being enforced. Patients have attempted to end their pregnancies “through dangerous means” and assault survivors have struggled to meet the deadline imposed by the new abortion law to terminate a pregnancy.

With the ban now cleared to take effect, McHugh said the impact will spread beyond pregnant women and be felt by the entire state. The community’s health will suffer as the people who are pregnant cannot work and are busy taking care of their families that expanded before they were ready to provide for more children.

In addition, both McHugh and Gibron expect the state’s maternal mortality rates to increase as people “are forced to carry pregnancies” they do not want or that put their health and life at risk. They said the state’s maternal mortality rate has increased 58% in the last three years.

“We are third in the nation right now for maternal mortality,” McHugh said. “I fear that we will be in a race to the top with the other states that are banning abortion access.”

While Planned Parenthood is adjusting to the new restrictions, Gibron said the organization would continue its effort to overturn the state’s abortion law.

“We will fight every lawsuit and every ban as far as we can take it in the state of Indiana,” Gibron said. “Patients deserve access to vital reproductive health care in their home state. It is unconscionable to think that patients have to leave their community, their home, their state to access basic health care. So yes, we will continue to fight as far as we can fight every battle that needs to be fought on this front in the state of Indiana.”

Crossing state lines

Planned Parenthood’s pledge to help patients travel to another state for an abortion comes as Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and 18 other attorneys general are trying to stop a proposed federal rule that seeks to strengthen reproductive health care privacy. Under the potential new rule, government officials would be restricted from reviewing health information for an investigation against any individual who seeks, obtains, provides or facilitates lawful reproductive health care.

Rokita and the other attorneys general wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services , asserting the proposed new rule would upset a “careful, decades-old balance” between patient privacy and the state’s need to protect public health, safety and welfare.

“The proposed rule would interfere with States’ ability to obtain evidence that could reveal violation of their laws,” the letter stated. “This intrudes on core state authority.”

Asked if Planned Parenthood was concerned about any repercussions from the Indiana Attorney General for assisting patients with out-of-state care, Gibron replied, “Absolutely not.”

She then added the clinic would protect patient privacy.

“What I want to make crystal clear is under no circumstances will we turn over any kind of patient data,” Gibron said. “Your records, your medical information is private and protected and confidential. And it will remain that way.”

The Indiana Attorney General’s office countered Gibron’s comment by saying the state’s top lawyer is not seeking more access but just wants the current rule to stay in place.

“Once again, Planned Parenthood is seeking to take advantage of another 15 minutes of fame,” Kelly Stevenson, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said in an emailed statement. “We are not asking for any patient records. We are saying the existing law should stay in place, keeping intact the law enforcement authority that states have had for decades.”

The attorney general’s office highlighted its case against Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN who provides abortions, as proof it respects patient privacy. Rokita’s team filed a complaint against Bernard for relaying to the media she provided an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim.

“In fact,” Stevenson continued, “our office has always defended patient privacy. As you know, the Medical Licensing Board found Caitlin Bernard liable for violating state and federal patient privacy law on three separate counts, plus issued a formal letter of reprimand. We will argue just as vehemently for any other patient whose privacy is violated by their doctor.”

Gibron called Bernard “a hero” for the care she provided to the 10-year-old and said Rokita’s effort to politicize the incident for his own gain “was despicable.”

“We will continue to support Dr. Bernard as we always have,” Gibron said. “And if the AG decides he wants to do something else and come after any other physicians that work with Planned Parenthood, he will be met with the full force and weight of our legal team and our support behind our providers.

This article was published by TheStatehouseFile.com through a partnership with The Indiana Citizen (indianacitizen.org), a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform dedicated to increasing the number of informed, engaged Hoosier citizens.

FOOTNOYE: Marilyn Odendahl has spent her journalism career writing for newspapers and magazines in Indiana and Kentucky. She has focused her reporting on business, the law, and poverty issues.