By Annette Gross
March was Women’s History Month – 31 days in which to honor and celebrate women’s achievements. So, rather than praise and laud the women of Indiana, our state legislature chose to pass a bill that would degrade and shame Hoosier women.
In March, 37 senators and 60 representatives voted to pass HB1337, which has been labeled one of this country’s strictest anti-abortion laws ever. No testimony or public input was allowed at the hearings! The state closed the door to allowing women to speak on their own behalf.
HB1337 has several parts to it. One states that the remains of any miscarriage or abortion have to be buried or cremated, and the woman has to decide which she prefers. So, let’s say a woman has a miscarriage at two months. She will experience vaginal bleeding and often the passing of blood clots and tissue. Depending on the situation, a woman will have a D&C (dilation and curretage) to remove remaining tissue and placental tissue.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), about 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So, the State of Indiana will force these women to make decisions about burying lost tissue from their bodies. This seems not much different from burying the remains of your monthly period!
I suffered a stillbirth many years ago. My baby was full-term. I remember laying in the hospital bed – in shock and despair – the last thing I wanted to think about was a burial. In this instance, we are referring to miscarriages that occur before 20 weeks. However, I would imagine that the trauma that I suffered in burying my child would be much the same. It’s bad enough to lose a much-wanted child of any gestational age. To be forced to go through the paperwork and thought-processes surrounding the burial of fetal remains is heartless and cruel!
The second part of HB1337 concerns a fetus that has a “lethal disability.”
It reads, “Prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of: (1) the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.”
Under law, an abortion is legal before 20 weeks, and a woman does not have to reveal why she wants an abortion. So at the very beginning, this part of the bill is intrusive.
Down’s syndrome is often brought up, but there are too many babies born with other lethal diseases that we don’t think about.
A particularly horrifying disease that runs in Ashkenazi-Jewish families is Tay-Sachs. These children only live to around age five. Some symptoms include deafness, progressive blindness, decreased muscle strength, and delayed mental and social development.
The cost and mental and physical anguish of raising such a child, knowing he or she will die very soon, is a terrible burden on a family. Rather than being life-affirming, this bill is cold and mean-hearted to the child, the parents, and the family.
Additionally, the physician providing the abortion would be subject to disciplinary sanctions and civil liability for wrongful death. This is another way for the state to target abortion providers and try to close them down.
Lastly, it burdens the state and the health care system. Sue Ellen Braunlin, M.D., of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, states, “It will cause more competition for the scarce services that there are for people with disabilities.” Dr. Braunlin gave birth to a child with a serious heart condition, and had a very difficult time receiving healthcare for her child. It often seems that the state is more concerned with a child before it is born, and doesn’t care what happens to it after birth.
So far, nothing here seems to uplift the sanctity of life. Rather, it shames a woman who has either has had an abortion or suffered a miscarriage. It removes her autonomy over her own body and personal wishes. It forces her to deal with matters that she shouldn’t even have to think about at a very traumatic time of her life.
I went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and had the opportunity to speak with quite a few young women who were not aware of this bill. I explained to them what it was and what it meant for them. I told them that we need new legislators at our Statehouse – we need to vote in people who really care about their constituents. We need legislators who will not cave in to the demands of right-wing and religious zealots. We need legislators who will be open-minded and fair to all Hoosiers.
So, while we just “celebrated” Women’s History Month, please be aware that women are being attacked in Indiana, just for being who they are. There are a few ways you can help. One is to GET OUT AND VOTE – because we cannot keep the status quo.
Second, consider donating to organizations that advocate and support women and the choices they make. Two leaders are Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-indiana-kentucky) or the IRCRC-Reproductive Justice (www.ircrc.org).
As we look back on women’s history, we know that we have come a long way, yet there is still so much more work to be done. Women still earn less than a man in the same job. We still need better options for family care for working families. And women’s rights to choose are consistently being whittled away state-by-state.
Rather than shaming and belittling women during one of the worst times in their lives, we should be helping them and offering them the best resources we can.
Annette Siegel Gross joined Indianapolis PFLAG in 2001, after her son came out as gay. She has served on its board as President and Program Chair and is currently the Chair for Publicity and Advocacy, as well as PFLAG State Coordinator for 10 Indiana chapters.