Impact on undocumented women: Pence, HEA 1337 and Hoosier women 

Examining HEA 1337's burden on undocumented women

click to enlarge ELAINE BENKEN
  • Elaine Benken
HEA 1337 is law in Indiana effective July 1. The wide-sweeping bill has been called the strictest abortion law in the nation. The bill outlaws abortion entirely for a variety of reasons, adds additional barriers to access, and requires each aborted or miscarried fetus be buried or cremated.

Our editorial stance is that HEA 1337 does not protect the interests of pro-choice or anti-choice women. Simply put, HEA 1337 makes Indiana the most hostile state for women’s rights in the nation. 

We examined the impact of HEA 1337 on Hoosier women from a variety of angles. And we're continuing to examine the impact of the new law and publish women's stories of abortion and miscarriage.

Although issues like racism, ableism and classism cannot be examined separately of one another, the struggles of undocumented women must heed special attention. Sam Centellas, the executive director of La Casa de Amistad, a resource center for the Latino and undocumented communities in South Bend, Ind., explained how socioeconomic status dictates points of access.

“The last people who are going to find out and understand that are going to be low income people in undocumented communities,” says Centellas. “So I think some of the community, I think, don't know what’s happening with the bill. I know that these bills have existed and they are continuing to restrict women’s rights … That’s how it affects people the most, they won't know about it until it’s an issue for them personally.”

RELATED: How did The ACLU and Planned Parenthood respond? 

Many of those women will be caught between the nuances and fine lines of HEA 1337 while they are seeking medical care. While doctors are required to offer a translator, a problem that Centellas runs into regularly is a disconnect between provider and patient in terms of language.

“I don't like to say that everyone who is undocumented has a language barrier, but often times it does compound the issue,” says Centellas. “This is another thing that can be translated wrong or people will get the wrong information when things are translated to them or given to them, if they are even translated. I know medical people are required — there are some requirements that they have in terms of proper translation of things — but often times what we hear in the community is that people say, “Do you understand what I am saying in English or do you need a translator, and they say no. So they say, ‘Okay good, I'm going to just do everything in English.’

“But the person really probably doesn't understand, so when they have some of these things explained to them, they just might be doing the, ‘uh huh, uh huh,’ and agree to things they don't always know … Sometimes it’s out of embarrassment or ease of getting whatever appointment it is over with — they are going to say no I don't need an interpreter … and get lead to the answers the person wants them to hear … an abortion provider is trying to describe some of these things to them, they might unknowingly say the wrong thing. Which down the line could get them in trouble.”

Currently those who are undocumented are not covered under the Affordable Care Act, but they can purchase from private providers — a price point that is often too high. La Casa de Amistad currently refers those with any kind of health concerns to Sister Maura Brannick clinic in South Bend, who will see patients without insurance. Though the clinic does not offer abortions, they will offer medical attention for miscarriages and comprehensive health care.

Another burden that will impact women who live in poverty and those who live in rural areas (many of the undocumented population in northern Indiana) will be the additional trips to their provider for appointments like the one that will require a woman to hear the fetal heart tone and view the ultrasound image 18 hours before an abortion. When getting to the doctor is a struggle on its own, the extra weight is felt.

click to enlarge ELAINE BENKEN
  • Elaine Benken

“I think in general, the things that are specifically impacting undocumented women, I would say low SES, so people who are low on the socioeconomic spectrum are going to be challenged,” says Centellas. “It’s trips to the doctor. It’s hard for them just to get to a doctor in general, so to have make extra trips just for something like this is going to be a bigger burden. Even more so, a lot of undocumented people live in rural areas … where additional trips to different things that they need to do (which is a complaint already for people to get medical care now) is a challenge. So making it more restricted doesn't help.”

Recently there have been additional restrictions added to WIC (formally, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) for undocumented people.

“So in general, now, for undocumented women, they are having WIC restricted, they are having more burdens placed on them as a parent, as a potential parent,” says Centellas. “It continues to get harder in this state for people to get services. It impacts the entire community. People who are anti-immigration, it’s easy for them, somehow, to justify taking these benefits away. Especially when we talk about things like WIC or ability for women to access health care in our community — that is a community issue. These are families that live here in our neighborhood, individuals who work in our stores and restaurants and factories. It’s getting harder for them to be healthy, when we know that communist health is a major issue. To create additional restrictions on a population we already know is at risk, just doesn't make sense.” 

click to enlarge ELAINE BENKEN
  • Elaine Benken

We collected personal stories from women who chose abortion or experienced miscarriage and asked them how HEA 1337 would have impact their experience. All stories with names attached are published with explicit permission. We want to thank the women who submitted their stories.  In the next few days, we'll publish those stories. If you'd like, you can submit your own at or email it to NUVO's editors at 

This is Abigail McKinney's story. 

“I was in a relationship that was very obviously going down the drain. It was becoming more and more abusive, on both ends. I became pregnant during this time. When I was pregnant, and I let him know, the abuse became worse and worse. It was turning from not just verbal fighting. It was turning into physical fighting. I had to make a decision in that time if I was going to keep the child. I had no money. I was only working at that time as a bookseller part time, and I had absolutely no money.

“I was really debating on what I should do for a few weeks. Then I decided that I needed to have an abortion, not only for my safety, but because I couldn't bring a child into a situation where I knew that it wouldn't be safe, and I couldn't provide.

“When I decided to speak, I went to the Senate and I spoke in front of the Senate. I told them that this bill is crazy because you have to pick between burial or cremation. If any woman is having an abortion or being involved with someone who is having an abortion, you realize already the laws and the restrictions on abortion at this point in Indiana are so restrictive that it's difficult to get through. ...

“When I was in the Statehouse, watching these senators who make laws for our state, instead of using correct terminology of 'fetal remains' and 'fetal tissue' they were calling them 'little babies.' That same gentleman, instead of using the term 'interment,' was using the word 'internment.' I was like, actually that's quite ironic because internment is a little more of what you're doing to these women. You're forcing them into a situation that they're not comfortable with. It's just like restricting someone into a jail cell. I found it quite ironic.”

This is Annette Magjuka's story. 

“I had a ‘late miscarriage’ in 1986. I had been trying to have children with infertility treatments, for almost ten years. I was pregnant (so happy!) and then one night I started cramping and bleeding. I called my doctor, who said, ‘Well, you will either miscarry or not. Wait and see.’ The bleeding got worse, and I alternated between the bathtub, which would turn red with blood and the toilet. Eventually I passed big clumps. I scooped some of it out of the toilet to bring when I saw my doctor the following day. I ended up getting a D & C to ‘clean everything out.’ As I had this procedure (I opted to do it awake so I could leave right afterwards), I realized that this is how an abortion works. The entire thing was traumatic, and I was so, so sad.

“If I had been forced to document or prove that my miscarriage was not intentional, or if I had been forced to bury the clots that came out of my body, my trauma and sadness would have been elevated to an unbearable degree. When you lose a pregnancy, you already feel sad and betrayed by your body. The state of Indiana or laws passed by a religiously aggressive legislature have no place in this highly personal, often traumatic event in a woman’s life.” 

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Emily Taylor

Emily Taylor

Emily is the arts editor at NUVO, where she covers everything from visual art to comedy. In fact she is probably at a theater production right now. Before joining the ranks here, she worked for Indianapolis Monthly and Gannett. You can find her thoughts about Indy scattered throughout the NUVO arts section and... more

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