By Susan Guyett
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb 26 (Reuters) - The Indiana state Senate on Tuesday approved Republican-backed legislation to require women seeking to end pregnancies through use of the so-called abortion pill to have an ultrasound examination.
If it becomes law, the proposal would make Indiana the ninth state to require an ultrasound prior to an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Senators voted 33 to 16 to approve the measure, advancing it for consideration by the state House of Representatives, which like the Senate is controlled by a Republican super-majority.
Republican Governor Mike Pence, a former U.S. congressman who strongly opposes abortion and championed federal attempts to cut off funding for abortion provider Planned Parenthood, is expected to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.
The bill, as first introduced by Republican state Senator Travis Holdman, would have required two ultrasounds before a woman could obtain a prescription for the abortion pill, officially known as RU486. It was amended to allow the doctor providing the drug to decide if a second exam was needed.
"It is a matter of the mother's health," said Holdman. It is dangerous to administer RU486 in some cases, such as if the fertilized egg implants outside the womb of the woman.
The bill as passed also would require clinics where RU486 medication is dispensed to meet the same standards as a facility that performs surgical abortions, a provision opponents said could force an Indiana clinic to close.
The two-pill abortion medication called RU486 has been legally available in the United States since 2000. By 2008 it accounted for about one-fourth of U.S. abortions performed before nine weeks of gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
As approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the two drugs - mifepristone and misoprostol - are dispensed by prescription directly from a physician. They are not available in pharmacies. The medication is generally prescribed for ending pregnancies of less than eight weeks.
Opponents of the bill said it would effectively require women seeking an RU486 prescription to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound probe, because that is the only exam capable of providing the information mandated by the bill during early stages of pregnancy.
The bill language does not specify the type of ultrasound required, and Holdman said a normal ultrasound would suffice.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum said the new licensing requirements could force a Lafayette, Indiana, clinic that provides non-surgical abortion services to close.
"It's politics, pure and simple," Cockrum said, adding that requiring the clinic to meet surgical standards would not improve patient safety. (Reporting by Susan Guyett; Editing by Steve Gorman, David Bailey, Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)