Hospitals close-lipped on post-rape abortion policies

Some religiously affiliated institutions say they won’t perform procedures for rape

By: Leslie Bonilla Muñiz Indiana Capital Chronicle – August 30, 2023 7:00 am

Indiana’s largest hospital systems are opaque on their policies for post-rape abortions — or flatly deny the prospect as “elective” — drawing into question the effectiveness of the rape exemption written into the state’s newly effective abortion ban.

Hoosiers seeking abortions after rape can legally access the procedure at hospitals up to 10 weeks post-fertilization. It’s one of several narrow exceptions built into the ban, which went into effect this month following an unsuccessful legal challenge.

But in a survey of eight of the state’s largest hospital systems, just one didn’t immediately rule out post-rape abortions — though it included few details on its policies.

Three — all religiously affiliated — said they do not perform abortions in cases of rape. Two did not respond to requests for comment and two declined to comment.

“Victims of rape and incest are rarely in a problem-solving mode. They are dealing with trauma. But even if they are, and are within 10 weeks – where is the access?” asked Beth White, president and CEO of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking.

“How much will it cost? Do they have to be patients of the hospital system already? How do you make an appointment?” she continued. “…  It is unclear how a rape or incest survivor can access their legal right to an abortion in the circumstances where they find themselves.”

The Indiana Hospital Association, which maintains a neutral position on the ban, said it had “outlined” the new law for its members and distributed new health department guidance on abortion documentation.

“Indiana’s hospitals have been working to ensure compliance with (Senate Enrolled Act) 1 in a complex regulatory environment,” spokeswoman Laura McCaffrey said. “As we implement this new framework, we remain committed to ensuring our patients have timely access to lifesaving treatment and that our trusted medical professionals have both clear guidance and clinical discretion to provide the best care to Hoosier moms and babies.”

Short on details

Just one hospital system indicated it would perform post-rape abortions: Indiana University Health, which also houses the Riley Hospital for Children.

The system said it had a family planning team that”will carefully review and provide guidance specific to that person’s situation,” in a statement to the Capital Chronicle.

“I.U. Health and Riley Children’s Health have processes to get patients to the right place for care and support through our established network with emergency rooms, EMS, referring physicians, police departments, and others,” the system continued.

But the system sidestepped questions on how to access such services, how to make an appointment and what it typically costs.

“Patients who are in crisis are encouraged to reach out to a professional organization they trust to get help,” the system said.

Religious institutions don’t perform abortions

Several religiously affiliated hospitals said they do not perform abortions in cases of rape.

“As a Catholic health system that does not perform abortions, these questions do not apply to Franciscan Health,” Franciscan spokesman Robert Blaszkiewicz wrote.

He also included a statement emphasizing Franciscan’s “core values”: “Our deeply held religious beliefs are that each and every life is created in the image of God and, therefore, we are called to speak up for and defend the most vulnerable. This includes women who find themselves in unexpected pregnancies. We believe the gift of life is so valued that each person should be cared for with joy, respect, dignity, fairness, and compassion that he or she is consciously aware of being loved.”

“Your questions are better directed to a provider who performs elective abortions. Our hospitals do not,” Lutheran spokeswoman Teri deMatas wrote.

She said that Lutheran’s providers only perform abortions when “medically necessary to preserve the life and physical health of the mother, consistent with federal and state laws.”

Parkview Health spokeswoman Tami Brigle said the system “does not perform elective abortions, including in cases of rape.” Parkview has Methodist roots.

Deaconess Health System echoed Parkview’s statement on abortion access.

“The policy at The Women’s Hospital has not changed … that abortions are not performed outside the context of imminent risk of harm to or death of the mother,” the system said in a statement. The original statement included the ellipsis.

Neither St. Vincent nor its parent Ascension responded to requests for comment.

Eskenazi Health declined to comment, adding that it typically does not comment on “any” legislation. Community Health also declined, but did not elaborate on why.

Few resources for Indiana’s rape victims

“I think the hospitals will not be a remedy for the vast majority of people who are raped,” White, the sexual assault survivor advocate, said.

She said her organization is working with its providers to help survivors “find a way out of state,” adding that some groups are providing travel funding. But the average Hoosier abortion patient already has a child, White noted, and likely can’t miss work for several days.

And, she added, “Interpersonal violence and domestic violence is real. If someone needs an abortion due to forced sex in a relationship, they have even fewer options. (You can’t say), ‘I’m going to Michigan for a few days, and don’t ask me why or what I am spending money on.’”

Capital Chronicle editor Niki Kelly and reporters Whitney Downard and Casey Smith contributed reporting.

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