Indiana Right to Life has a rally scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Statehouse as pro-life advocates seek a full abortion ban. (Screenshot from Indiana Right to Life)
Pro-life advocates have pinned their hopes on banning abortion for decades. Now that goal is within their grasp in Indiana.
“Every legislator down there who has had one campaign has likely taken a position on abortion,” said Micah Clark, the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. “The kiss of death is to flip-flop on this issue.”
He believes both an abortion ban and financial supports will pass the Indiana House and Senate with few surprises because elections loom in November for many. The special session kicks off today.
Similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a controversial bill in 2015 that made Indiana national news, Clark said the national spotlight will be on legislators in the coming weeks as they hammer out bill details.
“We’re going to be a national target and you’re going to have a lot of threats from businesses like we saw with RFRA,” he said. “We’re going to be a focus of attention; it’s going to be a rough (few) weeks for the legislators, regardless what side they’re on.
The introduction of Senate Bill 1 — which bans abortion from conception with a few exceptions — embodies much of what the pro-life movement has fought over for years, sharply curtailing access to reproductive healthcare for millions of Hoosiers.
But anti-abortion proponents argue without enough penalties for abortion providers – or requirements for prosecutors to act – the bill lacks any enforcement. The bill doesn’t add any new penalties for those who perform illegal abortions but it is already a felony in Indiana.
Clark called the bill deceptive for seeming to do more than it actually does.
“It lacks substantive teeth that would even reduce abortion much at all,” Clark said. “There’s no real teeth in the bill for a defiant prosecutor. And we were hoping for some criminal penalties and some power… where someone – maybe the attorney general – could enforce the law if somebody defies it.”
Andy Downs, a political science professor at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said he thinks the General Assembly will avoid focusing on criminal penalties, at least initially. The special session allows legislators to quickly respond to the desires of their base while appearing thoughtful and pragmatic, he said, and gives them the chance to try again in January when they return for the regular session.
“Special sessions are often very, very quick. Everyone has sort of come to an agreement that something needs to be done,” Downs said. “There are not a whole lot of hearings or opportunities for public input like you have during a regular session.”
Downs said that the bill could arguably be a middle ground, because it includes exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, but leans to the pro-life crowd.
“It will not be viewed as a win by people who are looking for an outright ban but it will be viewed as a win for people who are looking for tighter restrictions,” Downs said. “People who look long term when it comes to legislation will be able to consider it a win as well because it’s incremental – it’s a fairly large increment – but it’s an incremental change from what exists right now.”
Impact of child rape on bill drafters
The case of a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who sought an abortion in Indiana solidified the likelihood that the General Assembly would include a rape exception to any bill, Clark said.
“My position is that you don’t punish the baby for the sins of the father but at the same time I do understand the circumstances,” Clark said. “Especially with a 10 year old, it’s a family issue. There’s a lot to consider.”
He said lawmakers shouldn’t make a law based on the small numbers of people seeking abortions due to rape, something that Cathie Humbarger also believes.
“Ultimately, I would like to see abortion banned completely but I do understand the political situation and we need to save as many babies as we can as soon as we can. Elective abortions makes up more than 95% of all abortions,” said Humbarger, the former executive director of Allen County Right to Life. “I think we can handle the hard cases (such as rape and incest) in a compassionate and caring way.”
Downs noted that anyone claiming rape or incest as a reason for pursuing an abortion under the proposed bill must sign an affidavit, which he said recognizes how lengthy the criminal process can be. But, since the documents will be confidential, it couldn’t be used by prosecutors to file criminal charges.
“What has been accomplished with all of that is an interesting question,” Downs said.
Clark said abortion providers should have to verify claims of rape or incest and that police reports should be filed.
“We need to know who did this and it’s nothing something someone should claim recklessly because they want an abortion,” he said. “It should be something that the police investigate and somebody should be punished for that crime against the woman.”
The pro-life movement’s next steps
For Humbarger and Clark, both said more needs to be done to help women and children. The Senate introduced an accompanying bill that would earmark $50 million for such services, such as family planning and adoption support.
“There’s a lot of work to be done. Women are still going to be in difficult situations, mothers are going to be in unplanned pregnancies and mothers are going to not know where to turn for help,” Humbarger said. “We have a lot of work to do in order to make certain that each one of those women, those mothers, are loved throughout this difficult time… (and) empower women to be able to have a full life in addition to being a mother.”
Clark said the pro-life movement needs to transform and focus on maternal care, in addition to adoption, and providing for the needs of children and parents.
“Making prenatal care better funded, helping crisis pregnancy centers that help women in crisis with diapers, baby food,” Clark said. “I think that’s a good discussion to have as well and I think it’s something that the pro-life movement has to shift and do more of.”
Crisis pregnancy centers recently came under fire following a New York Times article on how a group deceptively discouraged women from receiving abortions by listing themselves as providers but offering no services. The centers are frequently funded with public tax dollars but often operate as private facilities that offer limited medical services, as detailed by the Associated Press.
What comes next
Clark said he doesn’t think efforts to ban contraception and same-sex marriage have the same momentum as abortion and wouldn’t “trickle up” to the Supreme Court because of a lack of cases.
“I don’t see the same local battles and the same fights legally over contraception and same-sex marriage that we’ve had for over 40 years with abortion,” he said.
Downs didn’t seem so sure.
“I think it’s safe to say that we are not done discussing social issues,” Downs said.
He noted that no matter what happens this week, lawmakers will return in January – and every January moving forward – and will have the opportunity to introduce more anti-abortion legislation.
“The discussion about abortion is not over by any stretch of the imagination,” Downs said. “This is simply the bill that the Republicans can get passed under the circumstances we have today.”
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