Republicans defend anti-abortion law 

By Sarah Seward

The state senator who sponsored the new law that prevents public funding from going to organizations that perform abortions and has provoked a high-profile legal battle says he did so because no other approach had worked.

Sen. Scott Schneider (R-Indianapolis) said he and other Republicans decided to try to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding at the state level because a similar attempt by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) had failed at the federal level.

Schneider said this failure pushed states including Indiana to pass the measure if they wanted to prevent tax money from funding abortions.

The new law prohibits state agencies from entering into contracts with organizations like Planned Parenthood of Indiana (PPIN) that perform abortions. It also requires doctors to tell patients thinking about getting an abortion that there is scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain at and possibly before 20 weeks and that human life begins at fertilization.

Schneider said he was not surprised to see that the new Medicaid law caused such a reaction.

"Anytime you take money away from somebody, they're going to get upset," Schneider said.

PPIN and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana have challenged the law on constitutional grounds by inflicting irreparable harm on Planned Parenthood and Medicaid patients.

Both sides await a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on PPIN's request for a preliminary injunction against the measure. The ruling is set to come by July 1.

Schneider said, while he hopes that the new law will prevail, he realizes that the political reality is that Pratt is a Barack Obama appointee.President Obama, a Democrat, supports abortion rights.

Betty Cockrum, president of PPIN, said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the organization's request for an injunction will be granted.

While Planned Parenthood and the ACLU fight the state in court about the new law, the Indiana attorney general's office said it believes that all disputes about Indiana's proposed Medicaid plan belongs between the state and federal government at this time.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services denied Indiana's proposed Medicaid plan, saying that the new law infringed on Medicaid patients' freedom to choose which health care provider they want.

"As you know, federal Medicaid funding of abortion services is not permitted under federal law except in extraordinary circumstances (such as in cases of rape or incest). At the same time, Medicaid programs may not exclude qualified health care providers from providing services that are funded under the program because of a provider's scope of practice," said Donald Berwick, Medicaid administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in a letter to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. "Such a restriction would have a particular effect on beneficiaries' ability to access family planning providers, who are subject to additional protections."

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said Indiana is currently deciding whether they will abide by what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells them or if they will take the consequences of sticking with the bill.

"The CMS letter is laying the groundwork for the consequences of state law, but it's the state's choice in what it does," Fisher said.

Last week, 28 members of the U.S. Senate, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), signed a letter addressed to President Obama's administration defending Indiana's new measure.

The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.

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