House Republicans quiet post-abortion ban

By: - August 16, 2022 7:00 am

The Indiana House of Representatives. (Photo by Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

There was no torrent of news releases from Indiana House Republicans after the late-night August 5 passage of the state’s new abortion restrictions, despite the hours of public testimony and debate that went into the legislation.

While at least 17 of the Indiana Senate’s 39 Republicans released public comments day-of (44%), just two of the House’s 71 (3%) have news releases posted on the caucus’ website: House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Rep. Joanna King, ,R-Middlebury. That’s compared to the 49 House Republicans (69%) who posted statements online when the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade through Dobbs v. Jackson.

In his statement on August 5, Huston called the ban a “giant step toward improving protections for Hoosier women and the unborn” and a “thoughtful way forward that shows compassion for both mothers and babies.”

In an August 12 statement, King said the special session was a “historic moment for our families and for the preservation of life” and highlighted a provision moving abortions from independent clinics to hospitals.

House Republicans Communications Director Erin Wittern noted in an email that the Senate’s final action came “well after the House adjourned.” The House last voted about 2 p.m., while the Senate concurred with its amendments at 10 p.m.

But it’s been more than a week and the caucus hasn’t sent news releases touting the bill – instead responding to individual requests of local media outlets.

“I think that for some of the legislators, speaking in the abstract — which is where we were at the start of the session, or when Dobbs [v. Jackson] passed — that’s easy. Actually producing legislation is more difficult,” said Andrew Downs, emeritus director of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, on the mismatch in public comments.

“It’s the same reason that, when there’s an incumbent and an unnamed challenger to the incumbent, people are open to the unnamed challenger, because at that point, they can think in idealized terms,” Downs explained. “Once you put a name on the challenger, then suddenly it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is why I don’t like that person.'”

Wittern said one-third of the caucus members spoke publicly “using a variety of means,” like interviews and comments for local media outlets and constituent e-newsletters.

“It’s solely up to members on an individual basis to decide if and when they utilize news releases,” Wittern wrote. She later added, “Our members will continue to use a variety of means to spread the word about the work they do at the Statehouse and make themselves available to members of the media.”

But the Indiana Democratic Party has seized on the relative quiet — and the cause of abortion rights more generally — to lambast House Republicans.

“It tells us and it should tell voters that what they what they passed — making abortions against the law — is extremely unpopular with the majority of voters,” said party spokesman Drew Anderson. He referenced a closely guarded Indiana GOP poll showing less support than expected for a total ban, and the 60-40 failure of an abortion-banning ballot initiative in Kansas earlier this month.

“They pushed it through anyway to fulfill a vocal minority’s need and agenda,” Anderson said, adding, “I’m willing to bet that a lot of them and we’ll talk about it on the campaign stump, especially candidates in the suburbs.”

Anderson declined to say if the party is conducting its own polling on Hoosiers’ opinions on abortion regulations, but said the party will be pushing it as an issue in the run-up to the November elections.

Chad Kinsella, director of Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, said the ban could affect results in suburbs in and around Marion County, Hamilton County, Allen County and the Region. One of his classes will soon begin an analysis of competitive state House districts, he said.

But November — and electoral consequences — are a while away when it comes to the news cycle.

“Americans, especially when it comes to elections, we have a very short memory,” Kinsella said. “… Anything that kind of comes up last-minute that will grab our attention — we tend to forget what happened even a couple of months ago.”

New state control over abortion, Kinsella said, “highlights that importance of what state and local government do … as opposed to thinking that everything has to happen at the federal level.”

This story was edited for clarity after publication.


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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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