Life begins at conception, and a fetus could feel pain during an abortion.

Indiana would require doctors to deliver that heavily debated statement, in writing, to abortion patients under proposed legislation that re-emerged Thursday at the Statehouse.

A similar bill died in the Senate last year, but its author, Sen. Patricia L. Miller, R-Indianapolis, is pushing it again this session.

The legislation, Senate Bill 146, was debated Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee but received no vote.

Representatives from Indiana Right to Life, the Indiana Catholic Conference and the conservative activist group Advance America backed the bill. Planned Parenthood and the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation spoke against it.

Once again, I feel forced to ask: don’t legislators have anything to do? Because if they need an agenda of real legislation to work on, at any governmental level, I would be more than happy to personally draft one. But sadly, no, they apparently don’t have anything better to do. And the kind of people authoring and promoting this bill are probably the last people on earth who would ever listen to, let alone request, my advice.

Miller said the bill is necessary to make sure women considering an abortion have all the facts they need to make an informed decision.

“This decision is a life decision, and many people who have abortions never forget they had an abortion,” Miller said. “So I think we ought to help them as much as we can before as opposed to afterward.”

Democrats traditionally have fought the bill, objecting to the notion of defining life at conception and presenting as fact that a fetus can feel pain during an abortion.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, pursued those concerns at Thursday’s hearing, but disagreements on those issues appeared resolved.

As originally written, Miller’s bill would require doctors to tell abortion patients that the “fetus might feel pain.” Miller agreed Thursday to change that language to “there are differing medical opinions concerning when a fetus feels pain,” a proposal made by Lanane.

Lanane and Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, also stressed the American Medical Association’s definition that life begins when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall. In response, Lanane and Miller agreed to amend the bill to read “an embryo formed by the fertilization of a human ovum by a human sperm immediately begins to divide and grow as human physical life.”

In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, 10,686 abortions were performed in Indiana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, I chuckle reading this even though I know that I shouldn’t. But in another world, one where women’s reproductive liberties weren’t at stake, it would be pretty fucking amusing in a Spinal Tap sort of way.

Many women never forget that they had abortions? Well, actually, that’s a relief. Now we know for sure that having an abortion doesn’t cause memory loss, unlike so many other kinds of surgery that people constantly forget they’ve had. Whether big or small, people just manage to lose all recollection of painful medical procedures on a daily basis. It’s a real problem. For example, I don’t even know that I once had major kidney surgery or that I had an hour long procedure to remove my wisdom teeth. And when I see the small scars from the gall bladder surgery I forgot all about, I furrow my brow and think “how did those get there?” It’s good to know that abortions don’t carry the same risk. Getting positive results on a pregnancy test that you hoped like hell would be negative sticks with you? Shocking.

And the text of the bill itself? Well that really does look like satire. Doctors must inform women that “there are differing medical opinions concerning when a fetus feels pain.” Well, this is true: I’m quite sure that even among intelligent, nonpolitical doctors, there is some debate in this area. Also, instead of telling women that life begins at conception (I guess that damn separation of church and state thing got in the way again), they would now have to say “an embryo formed by the fertilization of a human ovum by a human sperm immediately begins to divide and grow as human physical life.” Um. I hate to be flippant, but be my fucking guest. First of all, that’s written at a pretty high reading level, which is just counterintuitive when trying to distribute information to large sections of the public. And secondly, it essentially says “once you are pregnant, the thing in your uterus is capable of turning into a human being.”

. . . Okay. I hope that doctors would not make a habit of performing abortions on women who didn’t understand the concept of “pregnancy,” anyway.

Now, before you get annoyed with me, let me say that yes, in all seriousness, I do oppose this bill. Legislators should not be interfering with how doctors care for their patients, as long as the doctors are providing treatment safely and letting patients know of all risk factors — i.e. the release you sign when going into surgery, warning that there is a risk of death, however small. After that, the government has no place forcing doctors to moralize patients’ medical decisions. My point is merely that if we’re going to have these kinds of bullshit laws in place, this seems like the most benign one we could wish for.

At least, it seems relatively benign (compared with other anti-choice legislation), until you find out that there’s more.

Doctors would have to give written documents to pregnant women discussing the following:

* adoption alternatives are available and that there are many couples who are willing and waiting to adopt a child

* there are physical risks to the woman in having an abortion, both during the abortion procedure and after

* human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.

The bill also added a section requiring physicians to have admitting hospital privileges at a hospital in the county or in a county next to where the abortion is performed. The abortion doctor would have to tell the patient where he or she has privileges and where the patient can get follow-up care by the physician if complications arise.

See? Like I said, it could be funny, but it’s not. As for Democratic State Sen. Tim Lanane helping to amend the bill to make it more palatable to the general public, this is precisely why I think we need some sort of pro-choice litmus test for elected Dems. It was hard to dig up any info on the guy’s politics, but according to an anti-choice website, his votes are “62% pro-life.” Ass. The only potentially defensible excuse would be if Lanane was certain the bill would pass anyway, and was simply trying to mitigate the damage. But I’ve found nothing to corroborate such a theory. In any case, the bill is currently on hold.

In other Indiana anti-choice news, the legislature is also debating a bill that would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense medication for “moral” reasons, which essentially amounts to anything that could be used to cause an abortion. The super fun thing is that the bill’s author can’t give an example of what drugs would be affected — RU486, “the abortion pill,” is dispensed in doctors’ offices — and claims that pharmacists would not be able to refuse to dispense emergency contraception, even though the bill was modeled after another state’s law that . . . allowed pharmacists to refuse to dispense EC. Huh.

I think that Indiana is trying to enter the Most Anti-Choice State competition. They’re not quite there yet, but give them time.


1 lauredhel January 13, 2008 at 8:36 am

I’ve never grokked this particular objection. Yes, there is substantive scientific debate on the issue if you’re talking about post-viability fetus, and that’s a healthy thing to be happening.

Even if it is based in fact, however, it’s trivially solvable by offering general anaesthetic for post-semiarbitrary-date abortions (somewhere in the late second trimester), if they involve a significant fetal incision. Same as for open fetal surgery. Anaesthetic gases cross membranes readily; if the woman is out, so is the fetus. Gaseous anaesthesia can be supplemented by the direct administration of opioids to the fetus if it seems medically advisable.

It’s not as though it would change everything overnight if we suddenly encountered incontrovertible evidence that post-24-week fetuses can feel pain. Women don’t trip off blithely for post-viability abortions on a whim; they’re almost always done for serious maternal or fetal medical issues.

2 Cara January 13, 2008 at 12:16 pm

It’s not as though it would change everything overnight if we suddenly encountered incontrovertible evidence that post-24-week fetuses can feel pain.

Agreed. The problem is that antis claim that fetuses can feel pain quite sooner than viability. As I understand it, many women actually do request anesthesia for pre-viability fetuses due to this misinformation, which not only costs more but also causes an additional risk to the woman.

3 akeeyu January 13, 2008 at 4:37 pm

You know what I hate about the “OMG, embryos/fetuses might feel pain” debate?

Because of what’s NOT up for debate, because it’s a certainty: Women DO feel pain. Duh. So they’re pitting something that MIGHT feel pain against someone who definitely DOES feel pain, and their concern is with the fetus? Man, that always scores a big “Fuck you” from me.

Incidentally, the flip side of the abortion/ unnecessary anesthesia argument is that some women WANT anesthesia for reasons that have nothing to do with the fetus, and can’t get it or afford it.

I had what the medical community calls a ‘missed abortion’, which essentially means that I was pregnant, the embryo died, and my body didn’t notice. I was given the option to miscarry spontaneously, use the pills to stimulate a miscarriage, or have a D&C. My insurance company wouldn’t cover or even offer general anesthesia for a D&C (although they do offer it for significantly less invasive procedures), so my husband and I paid out of pocket for the entire procedure elsewhere, including the anesthesia.

In my case, the embryo was already dead, so I certainly wasn’t worried about its ability to feel pain, but after trying for quite some time to get pregnant and being told “I’m sorry, that heartbeat we saw before isn’t there anymore,” I absolutely could not hack being awake for the D&C, nor could I stand any more pain.

A D&C is not a painless procedure, so my insurance company’s indifference has always rubbed me the wrong way. Is their theory that women who have to have D&Cs for incomplete abortions aren’t in enough distress already, or is it just that the pain levels of women who choose elective abortions doesn’t particularly trouble them?

Either way, it pisses me off.

4 Catherine Martell January 14, 2008 at 6:37 am

* there are physical risks to the woman in having an abortion, both during the abortion procedure and after

There are far greater physical risks to the woman in carrying a pregnancy to term and delivering a baby. Proof, if proof were needed, that this is not about women’s welfare.

akeeyu, I’m really sorry to hear your story. Unfortunately I’m sure you’re not alone – and that many women in your position cannot afford to pay up. Ugh.

Your point about the equivalence of foetus and woman is spot on. Andrea Dworkin wrote of anti-choice women that “Female selflessness expresses itself in the conviction that a fertilized egg surpasses an adult female in the authenticity of its existence.” It’s a line that has always stayed with me.

5 akeeyu January 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Oh, we couldn’t *afford* it. We had to borrow the money and will be paying that bill off for years.

Re pregnancy and risk to women:
When I went on birth control pills as a teenager, I read the entire information insert because I’d heard about the big scary risks involved with hormonal birth control, like blood clots and strokes and whatnot. Imagine my surprise when I saw that until the age of (if memory serves) 30-something, the risk of death from pregnancy and birth was significantly higher than the risk of death from birth control.

The sex ed in my school was pretty good, but this whole You Could Still Die In Childbirth IN THIS DAY AND AGE idea was pretty shocking to me at the time.

You’d think if the fundies were so tenderly concerned with the health and wellbeing of women, they’d be much bigger fans of birth control, wouldn’t you?

6 lauredhel January 15, 2008 at 8:13 am

akeeyu, that’s horrible. My sympathies. A quick GA is absolutely routine for a missed abortion here, and it’s all free in public hospitals.

“Elective” abortions (for want of a better word) are available at private clinics with GA or twilight sleep, are relatively inexpensive, and there are clinics who will not turn anyone away based on inability to pay.

*thanks voters fervently for Australian socialised medicine*

*hopes other countries will get their acts together very very soon for all women’s sakes*

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