Bloomington OKs $100K for emergency reproductive services, meant to counter effect of SB1

On a unanimous vote at its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a $100,000 appropriation for this year (2022) to pay for “an emergency reproductive health care program to help address the impacts of Indiana’s near-total abortion ban.”

Last week the council adopted a budget for 2023 that included another $100,000 for the same purpose.

From the public mic on Wednesday came opposition to the appropriation as well as support for it.

The expenditures are supposed to provide “lawful assistance to residents of Bloomington” who are affected by SB1, a law that prohibits most abortions in the state of Indiana, effective Sept. 15.

Three different lawsuits have been filed in connection with SB1, one of them in Monroe County circuit court, another in Marion County, and the third in federal court.

A stay issued by the judge in the Monroe County case, until it can be decided on its merits, means that for now SB1 cannot be enforced. But the state of Indiana has filed an appeal of the stay, which would mean immediate enforcement of SB1, without waiting for a decision on the case.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration announced as a part of the 2023 budget that city workers could be reimbursed for up to $2,500 in connection with expenses to travel out of the state to obtain abortion services.

The wording of Wednesday’s appropriation says the assistance is supposed to be distributed based on considerations that are similar to other social services grant programs—application materials, evaluation criteria, and a funding agreement.

The grant program to be funded with Wednesday’s appropriation will be administered through Bloomington’s community and family resource department (CFRD), headed by Beverly Calender-Anderson.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Calender-Anderson told the council that a five-member panel of community members would evaluate each of the applications. The application deadline will be Nov. 7, she said, with decisions on awards hoped to come by Nov. 18.  Calender-Anderson called it a “pretty quick process.”

Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Beth Cate, confirmed to The B Square that the grants to be made with the $100,000 appropriation could also be used by awardees to pay for travel out of state by people to obtain abortion services. But Cate pointed to a state statute [16-34-1-2] that prohibits political subdivisions of the state, like cities, from making “a payment from any fund under its control for the performance of an abortion unless the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman.”

The possibility that the state legislature might enact a prohibition against using public funds to pay for abortion-related travel was raised during Wednesday’s public commentary time by Bloomington resident Scott Tibbs. “Hopefully, the state legislature will act to prohibit this in January,” Tibbs said. He added, “And with a Republican supermajority they have no excuse not to.”

Also opposing the appropriation at the public mic was Jason Chen, who introduced himself as pastor of the Chinese Reformed Church of Bloomington. Chen told councilmembers they have a duty “to represent the underrepresented ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the poor and those who have not been born yet.”

Chen continued, “The life of every man, woman and child is from God, and it is a sacred gift.” He added, “You and I do not have the right to decide who gets to live and who does not, no matter how inconvenient or even how painful that person’s existence may be.”

Supporting the appropriation during public comment time was Jessica Marchbank, who is the state programs manager of All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center. Marchbank told councilmembers her organization has concerns about how difficult it already is to access abortion services in the state of Indiana, even with SB1 stayed for the time being. An abortion here in Bloomington will cost someone about $900, she said.

Marchbank said that All-Options has seen a 120-percent increase in demand for its diaper program over the last three months. “Now you tell me, people who can’t afford to put diapers on the babies they already have—can they afford $900 for an abortion?”

During public comment time, Renée Miller, who is a member of Bloomington’s CAPS (Community Advisory on Public Safety) commission pointed to a resolution passed by the CAPS commission that supports the kind of funding in Wednesday’s appropriation.

The CAPS resolution calls for a recurring annual donation of $75,000 to be split between All-Options and Planned Parenthood to “help people with reproductive healthcare, gynecological healthcare, and/or parent-related expenses.”

During city council commentary, Susan Sandberg reacted to Biblical quotations from Tibbs and Chen: “For those of us that have chanted ‘Not the church, not the state, it is women who must decide our fate,’ this is a blow—this is a body blow.” Sandberg added, “Many of us are grieving the loss of the precious freedoms that had been fought for for so long.”

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said funds are needed to provide counseling on the full range of options that are available. “People are scared that they may be forced to carry to term a pregnancy and become a parent, or become a parent to an additional child, when they are physically, psychologically, financially, or otherwise unprepared to do so,” she said.

Piedmont-Smith continued, “The decision as to whether to carry a pregnancy to term should be between the pregnant person and their health care provider. It is not the business of government.” She added, “Making it the business of government is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, which is an essential founding value of our democracy.”

According to Indiana’s 2020 Terminated Pregnancy Report,  for the six years between 2015 and 2020, an average of about 7,700 abortions were performed each year in the state of Indiana.