INDIANAPOLIS — Within hours, lawmakers passed two bills through committees that would impact the health of pregnant women, but the principles of the two bills conflict.
House Bill 1309 would allow a pregnant woman to request a pregnancy accommodation from her employer without the fear of retaliation or termination. But the employer is only required to respond in a “timely manner” to the request, something advocates say isn’t enough.
Samantha Kern, who identified herself as a Fishers small business owner and mother, said her former employer, a local Catholic hospital, wouldn’t permit her to leave her shift when she noticed bleeding.
Though her doctor and relief were only one floor away in the same building, she couldn’t leave until she secured coverage for her shift.
“I was the breadwinner, the insurance carrier for my family,” Kern said. “Because Indiana is a fire-at-will state, I was scared that I would lose my job if I left and I could not afford to be unemployed, pregnant and without health insurance. I had to choose between saving my pregnancy or saving my job. I was unable to leave for nearly two hours and ultimately lost my baby.”
Kern’s life changed four years ago but she said denials for pregnancy accommodations still occur and the proposed legislation wouldn’t protect pregnant mothers who are denied bathroom or water breaks, told to carry heavy items and barred from seeking treatment.
“If 1309 was in place, it would not have changed my situation … (my employer) response offered no accommodation whatsoever and it attributed to my family’s loss,” Kern said.
Republicans and Democrats criticized the bill, authored by Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, for doing nothing, but the bill passed the Pensions and Labor Committee with a slim majority, 6-4, with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans split.
Democrats said they hoped the bill could be changed on the Senate floor to include actual protections.
Just a few rooms away, senators in the Health and Provider Services Committee held a similar debate over fetal health, taking a different approach than their colleagues.
Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, introduced House Bill 1577 with several controversial provisions, such as requiring the notarization of parent consent for minors and requiring medical professionals to share information about an unproven “abortion reversal protocol.”
Sally Dixon, a South Bend fetal infant mortality review coordinator, compared the two bills in her testimony on pregnancy accommodations.
“(HB 1577) is willing to mandate what a physician does, despite the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disputing the safety of that (“abortion reversal”). … I could see where someone would think that’s reasonable,” Dixon said. “And yet, if the same woman, four or five months later, develops pregnancy complications, we’re not willing to require her employer to do a reasonable pregnancy accommodation. … to help protect her baby and her pregnancy and maybe even her own health.”
Two medical providers testifying against HB 1577 also criticized the requirement, saying the “anti-science” bill was based on anecdotes, not science about the “abortion reversal protocol.”
When asked to pick the worst part of the bill, Tracey Wilkinson, a pediatrician and researcher with Indiana University’s School of Medicine, said she couldn’t choose.
“As a pediatrician, it would be the notarization,” Wilkinson said. “But as a physician, it’s lying to the patients (about the abortion reversal drug). We as physicians should always give accurate information to our patients, and telling them about a medical procedure that has not been proven in science — that we would be mandated from the state to tell them — is incredibly uncomfortable to me.”
Brown defended the practice, which would essentially tell women to stop taking the prescribed abortion pills, which come in multiple doses. Brown cited two studies affirming the method’s use, which professional medical testimony described as “low quality.”
“We are so concerned about informed consent (for) anyone signing off on a procedure to their body. Now we’re talking about two bodies here so we want to make sure they have all the information they need,” Brown said.
With a lack of medical consensus, Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, voted against the bill, saying she didn’t support “fake science.”
“I’m embarrassed — this is one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen on this topic,” Breaux said.
The bill passed 7-4 and moves to be heard before the full Senate.