Editorial: Abortion law puts doctors under microscope

Very few members of the Indiana General Assembly have medical training or experience. It shows in the new abortion law they just passed. Worse, the law is complicating doctors’ ability to fully use their training and experience to provide what they determine in their considered judgment to be the best possible care for women.

In their headlong rush to widely ban abortion in this state by any means that could gather most of the supermajority Republicans’ votes in the Indiana General Assembly, what’s best for the health care of women — especially those whose pregnancies run into complications — was sacrificed for political expediency.

Now, doctors and obstetricians must consult not just standards of care and best medical practices, but also whether providing that care may run afoul of Indiana’s new, punitive abortion ban. Doctors will have to explain themselves — potentially to prosecutors, in court, under threat of criminal charges — for simply providing care they deem best for their patients.

The new law will make performing an abortion a Level 5 felony with very narrow exceptions. These include cases of rape or incest up to 10 weeks after fertilization; to protect the life and health of the mother; and if a fetus is diagnosed with a lethal anomaly.

The Republic’s Andy East reported recently on how the new law is being implemented. Reading between the lines, it’s fair to say that at minimum there is some confusion. There also is justified trepidation.

The new law has already been challenged in court as unconstitutionally vague, but it stands as of this writing, set to take effect on Sept. 15, unless a judge issues an injunction.

Terminations of pregnancies that occur after Sept. 15 would have to take place in hospitals. Columbus Regional, like other hospitals in the state, is working to establish policies and procedures to comply with the new law.

Hospitals including CRH generally in the past have performed abortions only in cases where the life or health of the mother is at risk, East reported.

CRH chief medical officer Dr. Tom Sonderman said the care the hospital has provided in those cases will still be available. But the law imposes new duties — and severe new potential liabilities — on providers.

“When we completely understand these requirements under the law, we would want to roll out a systematic approach to make this as smooth and rapid (as possible) and remove as much burden for all people involved to make sure that we are delivering the very best care that we can to our patients, but also remain in compliance with this law,” Sonderman said.

But as East reported, this is how Indianapolis law firm Quarles & Brady, which has a significant health care practice, analyzed the challenges for health care practitioners under the new law:

“In the emergency situations, for example, physicians will have to make fast decisions concerning medical necessity, remembering to document that in advance even though minutes might mean the death of their patient, while facing patients in crisis and families concerned about losing their female members, but which may ultimately also result in the physician’s arrest for providing the patient with care.”

Lawmakers never should have put doctors and women at such risk. Indiana’s abortion law needs to be fixed.