From Statehouse to courthouse, abortion politics intense

2013-08-05T21:30:00Z 2013-08-06T14:03:15Z From Statehouse to courthouse, abortion politics intenseDan Carden, (317) 637-9078
August 05, 2013 9:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Federal law clearly bars states from telling Medicaid recipients which health care providers they're allowed to obtain covered services from.

And yet, fresh off Tea Party-fueled victories that gave Republicans big House and Senate majorities, anti-abortion state legislators in 2011 passed House Enrolled Act 1210, prohibiting the 1.1 million Hoosiers on Medicaid from obtaining any health services, such as Pap smears, breast exams and pregnancy tests, at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Supporters of the law argued that state money — about one-third of Medicaid costs are paid by the state — shouldn't be spent at any facility, such as Planned Parenthood, that also performs abortions, even if that money is not used for abortions.

Opponents charged that in their zest to hurt Planned Parenthood, some state lawmakers were knowingly and deliberately ignoring federal law.

Two years and thousands of dollars in legal fees later, a federal judge last week permanently barred Indiana from enforcing the clinic-restrictions provision of the 2011 law.

"We are so pleased to finally put this issue to rest," said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. "We hope this sends a strong message to lawmakers who continue to play politics at the expense of vulnerable citizens."

Hoosier taxpayers likely also will pay a price for their representatives in the General Assembly enacting the message-sending law.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is almost certain to order Indiana to pay the legal costs incurred by the the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

It will be a familiar check for State Auditor Tim Berry to write. Since 2008, Indiana has paid nearly $1 million dollars in attorney's fees to the ACLU following the group's successful constitutional challenges to state laws.

"It's time for the assault on Indiana taxpayers' wallets to cease," Cockrum said. "How many more lawsuits must they lose before they get the message?"

But for state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, and other Statehouse abortion foes, their fiscal conservatism probably will continue taking a back seat to doing everything they can to eliminate abortion in Indiana.

"A lot of us are pro-life and anytime there's a pro-life issue, we're going to err on the side of being pro-life. Whatever happens after that, we can't control," Yoder said.

The assistant caucus chairman for Senate Republicans doesn't think his colleagues would ever go so far as North Dakota did recently and enact a plainly unconstitutional ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. But he said when a proposal has a reasonable chance to reduce abortion, it's worth enacting.

"I will always pursue pro-life legislation," Yoder said.

It remains to be seen whether Indiana will have to shell out even more money in ACLU legal fees if the organization challenges new restrictions on Planned Parenthood approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier this year.

Senate Enrolled Act 371, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, requires clinics that distribute abortion-inducing pills meet the same facility standards as clinics that perform surgical abortions, including extra-wide hallways and surgical-quality washing stations, even though they are medically unnecessary.

The Lafayette Planned Parenthood clinic is the only facility in the state that distributes abortion pills but does not perform surgical abortions. Planned Parenthood is still reviewing its legal options for challenging the law, spokeswoman Tina Noel said.

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