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'It is a dangerous path but it is so important'; Indiana doctor will continue performing abortions

Most abortions are now illegal in Indiana. But Dr. Katie McHugh says the demand has skyrocketed in recent months, so she will move her practice to meet the need.

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — Indiana has become the first state to in-act a new abortion ban, since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. 

As of Sept. 15, Senate Bill 1 bans most abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly or if the mother is at risk of serious injury or death.

Abortion providers in the Indianapolis area say the demand for services has skyrocketed in recent months, specifically from out of state patients who are facing bans at home. 

Because of the demand, one Indianapolis-based OBGYN said she will not stop what she describes as "life saving work," despite the new law or the threats against her life and her family. 

RELATED: EXPLAINER: Indiana's abortion ban becomes law Thursday

"We know from history abortion bans do not stop abortions or even slow abortions, abortion bans only serve to make abortion less safe," Dr. Katie McHugh said. "The patients in Indiana still need care. The patients in Kentucky and Ohio still need care."

Dr. McHugh is an OBGYN who grew up in Indiana, went to school in Kentucky and said in recent months, her work at the Women's Med Center -- an abortion clinic serving women in Indiana and surrounding states -- has become exclusively focused on abortion care due to the high demand. 

"I was sitting in the office when we got the news," she said. "Immediately the phones rang off the hook. Immediately we had a wait list. Because, while Indiana did not have a trigger ban, both Ohio and Kentucky did." 

McHugh said the clinic extended hours, trying to meet the need. 

"Patients suddenly were flocking to Indiana for this care," she said. 

Credit: WHAS11

McHugh spoke with WHAS11 in a sonogram room, describing the two appointment process for getting abortions in Indiana, prior to the ban. 

The first appointment, as required by Indiana law, includes a face-to-face meeting with a health care professional at least 18 hours prior to termination. During that appointment the patient will receive an ultrasound. 

After determining how far along the patient is into their pregnancy, the doctor will provide options for termination. If the patient decides to move forward, they can schedule the next appointment for as early as one day later.  

"Based on research we know the biggest reason people choose to have an abortion is based on finances and resources," McHugh said. "The vast majority of people say I just can't afford another kid."

According to the Indiana 2020 Terminated Pregnancy Report, the average age of a woman who chose to terminate their pregnancy was 31.8 years. 

More than half (67.79%) of all terminated pregnancies occurred during weeks 6-8 gestation and of the 7,756 women who terminated their pregnancy in 2020, 4,847 (62.5%), said they already had another child. 

RELATED: Amid abortion debate, clinic asks: Who's caring for moms?

One week out from Indiana's new abortion ban, McHugh said the clinic was seeing back to back patients, every day. 

"We're seeing about 30 to 40 patients a day here," she said. "Probably a third to a half of those patients are coming from out of state, the majority Kentucky and Ohio."

While working around the clock, McHugh said her team was also preparing for news from local lawmakers. In early August, Indiana lawmakers criminalized abortion in almost all cases. 

According to the latest data available from the CDC, Indiana has the ninth highest infant mortality rate in the country. Kentucky has the 13th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and Ohio is in the top ten. In maternal deaths, Indiana is third highest in the country.

All of those states now have abortion restrictions.

"Women will die as a result of this," Planned Parenthood's Rebecca Gibron said. 

Gibron said Planned Parenthood groups in these states are now working with women in different ways. The Kentucky chapters are focused on facilitating access, she said. 

"Right now that looks like having patients navigators who's sole purpose is to communicate with patients and help them access safe pathways to care in other states," she said. 

Credit: WHAS11

As an abortion provider, McHugh is also changing course, now making plans to move her abortion care services across state lines, where it is still legal.

"Indiana and Kentucky and Ohio and many of our neighboring states have decided that people should not be able to decide their own future or say what happens to their own bodies," she said. "I can't work in a situation where that is the case."

McHugh says most of her patients cannot afford to fly to access an abortion, so they drive and Illinois is the most accessible state. 

"This is not demonic work, this is compassionate, safe health care that is based in science and evidence and decades and decades of research," she said. 

But her actions, come at a cost. McHugh says she has received threats against herself, her employment and even her family. 

"My physical safety has been threatened, I've had people contact me with pictures of my kids schools. It is a dangerous path but it is so important," McHugh said. 

The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against Indiana Senate Bill 1 on the grounds of religious freedom. The lawsuit details women of the Jewish faith, who do not believe life begins at conception, and claim abortion bans restrict their rights. 

But as for now, the ban is in full effect across the state.

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