INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate on Tuesday approved new restrictions aimed at clinics that offer the abortion pill, requiring them to perform ultrasounds on women seeking the drugs.
Doctors' offices would be exempt from the provisions, even if those physicians sometimes prescribe abortion pills. Opponents contend the restrictions unfairly target poor women and are meant to complicate and invade women's personal health decisions.
Senators voted 33-16 in favor of the proposal. The vote came a day after the Senate removed from the bill a provision that would have required a second ultrasound exam on women during follow-up visits after receiving the drugs.
The bill does not specify what type of ultrasound must be done. But abortion-rights supporters say it would essentially force women seeking the procedure to undergo an invasive transvaginal procedure because the abortion pill is given early on in pregnancy, when the embryo or fetus is too small for an abdominal ultrasound to detect it.
The bill would also impose tougher requirements on clinics that offer the abortion pill but not surgical abortions. Those clinics would face the same requirements as clinics that perform surgical abortions. Doctors' offices would also be exempt from those extra regulations, and opponents and supporters said those requirements would affect only one clinic — a Planned Parenthood facility in Lafayette.
Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, joined Democrats and three other Republicans in voting against the bill. Becker said she believed the new regulations on the abortion pill would cause more women to unsafely buy the abortion-inducing drugs over the Internet. She said that if patient health were the true aim, the rules would also apply to doctor's offices.
"This bill is not about patient safety," Becker said. "It's about patient harassment."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Travis Holdman, a Republican from Markle, said he was comfortable exempting physician offices from the requirements because most of those doctors would be dealing with their regular patients.
Indiana has nine licensed abortion clinics, including three run by Planned Parenthood, according to state records. Planned Parenthood also provides annual exams, birth control and screenings for cancer and for sexually transmitted diseases, and it participates in federal and state programs to provide health care to poor women.
The abortion pill, initially known as RU-486, was introduced in France in 1988, and gained approval of the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.
The procedure, which works during the first nine weeks of pregnancy, involves swallowing Mifeprex, known chemically as mifepristone. The pill causes an embryo to detach from the uterine wall, and a second pill, misoprostol, is used two days later to cause contractions and push the embryo out of the uterus.
Holdman said his bill will provide needed state regulation.
"There are a number of us that believe that we need to have some regulation, informed consent, examination in person and some guidance by the physicians to provide for the health and safety of the mother in these situations," he said.
In addition to Becker, the Republicans voting against the bill were Sens. Phil Boots of Crawfordsville, Luke Kenley of Noblesville and Sue Landske of Cedar Lake. All 33 senators voting in favor of the bill were Republicans.
The bill now goes to the Republican-dominated House for consideration.
One of its House sponsors, GOP Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne, said he expected the bill to win approval.
Conservative legislators in 2011 pushed through a law that cut off some state funding to Planned Parenthood, but federal courts have blocked it from taking effect. Republican Gov. Mike Pence hasn't commented on the abortion pill proposal, but he led an unsuccessful federal Planned Parenthood defunding push in 2011 while he was in Congress.