Hundreds of protesters at the Indiana Statehouse decry overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Photo by Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Indiana lawmakers are poised to pass a law to further restrict access to abortions after a U.S. Supreme Court decision rolled back the limits states can place on the procedure.
The GOP leaders of the Indiana legislature have signaled support for new restrictions — possibly even an outright ban — but lack details. They’re expected to introduce those plans during a special legislative session on July 6, and a new law could be enacted several weeks later.
Everything is on the table — including these questions.
- Will Indiana ban all abortions or allow them up to a set gestational age, such as six or 15 weeks that a number of other states have used?
- Will lawmakers make it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion?
- Will women who get abortions be charged with a crime?
- Will there be any exceptions to a ban, such as rape, incest and cases in which the life of the mother is in doubt?
- Will they target women who cross state lines for an abortion — or anyone who helps the do so?
- How will they address abortion medication that can be ordered online?
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray emphasized in a statement Friday that lawmakers plan to formulate a policy “that protects unborn children and cares for the health and lives of mothers and their babies.”
“Indiana has a strong record as a pro-life state, and I am pleased the Supreme Court ruled to return power to the states with regard to this important issue,” he said. “We certainly realize this is an extremely contentious and potentially polarizing issue. We will proceed with this conversation in a civil and substantive way so that all sides have the opportunity to be heard as we chart a course for Hoosiers.”
He said last month that a total abortion ban is an option, but that exceptions for rape or incest “are certainly part of the conversation.” He noted, too, that lawmakers will commit to holding hearings and taking public testimony before voting on any bills.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said in a statement Friday that he also expects lawmakers “to take action” in July, when the General Assembly reconvenes to take up a tax refund proposal.
“Today’s decision rightfully returns the question of abortion back to the people and the states, and we’re excited to build on Indiana’s already strong pro-life track record,” he said. “We recognize the passion from all sides on this issue, and that’s why I expect the General Assembly to thoughtfully vet any legislation through the full legislative process, including committee hearings and public testimony.”
How we got here
A high court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi case that directly challenged the right to abortion, overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, returning decisions on abortion regulation to the states.
Roughly half of the states, including Indiana, are expected to quickly move bills that further restrict or ban abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization.
Republican Sen. Liz Brown of Fort Wayne, who sponsored several abortion-restriction bills adopted in recent years, declined to comment specifically on potential legislation. She said in a statement following the Dobbs decision that Indiana “must seize this opportunity to empower women and protect unborn human life.”
In a March letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb, the vast majority of Republican state lawmakers called for a special legislative session.
“As a state that recognizes that life is a precious gift that should never be neglected, it is our desire that you, as the governor of Indiana, ensure that those values are upheld without delay,” lawmakers said in the letter. “We have a responsibility to Hoosiers to ensure that our state laws are aligned with the Supreme Court’s decision if Roe v. Wade is wholly, or partially, overturned.”
Holcomb maintained on Friday that he “expect(s)” lawmakers to take up abortion-related matters during the special session.
“I have been clear in stating I am pro-life,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “We have an opportunity to make progress in protecting the sanctity of life, and that’s exactly what we will do.”
Democrats: Abortion ban could ‘cost lives’
Indiana Democrats argue that Republicans’ push to ban abortions “will cost lives.” They also point to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which said an outright ban on abortions would “pose an immediate threat to both public health and personal freedom.”
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta said the decision “rolls back nearly half a century of reproductive health care protections, and House Democrats are prepared to fight whatever regressive legislation House and Senate Republicans put forth. We still believe that medical decisions – and especially serious and difficult ones like abortion – are best made between a woman and her doctor, not by the government.”
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis added that the Democrat caucus will “continue fighting for women as we enter this dark time,” and “never give up fighting for essential abortion care for all Hoosier women.”
Hundreds of Hoosier health care providers additionally signed separate letters to the governor, raising concerns about the potential consequences of an abortion ban asking him not to call a special session on abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Indiana still allows abortions through 22 weeks at seven state-approved abortion centers. State law requires two separate visits for an abortion – one for paperwork, and one for the actual procedure – and ensures nearly all abortions are carried out in the first 13 weeks.
There were 7,756 abortions in Indiana in 2020, according to the latest Indiana Department of Health data. Of those, 7,372 were for Indiana residents.
Nearly 68% of abortions took place in the first six to eight weeks of pregnancy. Most patients were unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 29. About 49% of abortions were for White women, and 39% were Black.
Adding restrictions or banning abortion would achieve a longtime goal for the Indiana GOP, which has sought to increase abortion regulations in the past decade. In 2011, Senate Republicans introduced SB 290, which would have outlawed abortion except to protect the life of the mother. The bill never left committee.
Although lawmakers avoided passing any substantial abortion restrictions during the 2022 legislative session, they did approve House Bill 1217, which requires abortion providers to inform any pregnant woman seeking an abortion that no one can coerce the pregnant woman to have an abortion. If an abortion clinic employee suspects someone is being coerced — a Level 6 felony under the bill — the clinic must report it to law enforcement, who must then investigate.
If abortion is banned in Indiana, most Hoosiers can be in Illinois within hours.
Brigid Leahy, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said Illinois clinics are preparing for an influx of out-of-state residents. The organization opened an abortion clinic in Flossmoor, Illinois, in 2018, roughly 10 miles from the Indiana border. It opened another in Waukegan, near Wisconsin, in 2020.
Leahy said she expects two to five times the number of patients if Roe is overturned. That could mean 20,000 to 30,000 out-of-state residents annually.
Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter told reporters that private ministries, churches and other organizations should instead “step in” to help fill gaps in existing services for new and expectant families.
“We shouldn’t look at this as just, ‘What can government do to help pregnant mothers?’ This is a really a call for Hoosiers to step up across the board,” he said. “We will certainly be looking for our legislature to lead the way … to affirm that every life has value, including every unborn child’s life. But at the same time, we must be a state that shows support and cares for pregnant mothers choosing life.”
Fichter said his organization, which called the Supreme Court ruling a “tremendous victory,” believes that every child should be born “regardless of means of conception.” He did not clearly state whether Indiana Right to Life is in favor of exceptions that could be included in a new state law, but he said the group does not support laws that impose criminal penalties on pregnant people who access abortions.
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