Indiana lawmakers pass first ban on abortion after spawning

Written by Javed Iqbal

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers passed a nearly total ban on abortion on Friday to overcome division among Republicans and protests by Democrats to become the first state to draft and approve sweeping new limits on the procedure since Roe v. Wade was struck down in June.

The bill’s passage came just three days after voters in Kansas, another conservative Midwestern state, mostly rejected an amendment that would have removed protections for abortion rights from their state constitutions, an outcome seen nationally as a sign of discomfort with abortion bans. And it came despite some Indiana Republicans opposing the bill as going too far and others voting no because of its exemptions.

The ending of Roe was the culmination of decades of work by conservatives that opened the door for states to restrict abortion or outright ban abortion. Some states prepared in advance with abortion bans triggered by the fall of Roe. Lawmakers in other conservative states said they would consider more restrictions.

But at least in the first weeks after that decision, Republicans have moved slowly and have struggled to speak with a unified voice about what comes next. Legislators in South Carolina and West Virginia have weighed but not taken final action on proposed bans. Officials in Iowa, Florida, Nebraska and other conservative states have so far taken no legislative action. And especially in the last few weeks, some Republican politicians have recalibrated their messages on the question.

“West Virginia tried it and they stepped back from the brink. Kansas tried it and voters resoundingly rejected it,” state Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said on the House floor before voting against the bill. “Why that? Because until now it has only been a theory. It was easy for people to say they were pro-life. It was easy to see things so black and white. But now that theory has become a reality, and the consequences of the views are more real.”

The Indiana bill — which bans abortion from conception except in some cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormality or when the pregnant woman faces risk of death or certain serious health risks — now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican who urged lawmakers to consider new abortion limits during a special session he called. In addition to these limited exceptions, the bill would end legal abortion in Indiana next month if signed by the governor. The procedure is currently permitted at up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“If this isn’t a government issue — protecting life — I don’t know what is,” said Representative John Young, a Republican who supported the bill. He added: “I know the exemptions are not enough for some and too much for others, but it’s a good balance.”

The bill’s passage came after two weeks of emotional testimony and bitter debate in the statehouse. Although Republicans hold commanding majorities in both chambers, the bill’s fate did not always seem certain. When a Senate committee considered an initial version of the bill last week, no one showed up to testify in support of it: The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana called it a “cruel, dangerous bill“, Indiana Right to Life described it as “weak and worrying,” and a parade of residents with differing views on abortion urged all lawmakers to reject it.

Abortion rights protesters were a regular presence at the Statehouse during the session, sometimes chanting “Let’s vote!” or “Church and State!” so loud from the hallway that it could be difficult to hear the legislators. Several Democrats cited the vote in Kansas, where 59 percent of voters decided to preserve abortion rights, as an example of the political risk Republicans were taking. Democrats proposed putting the issue to a non-binding statewide vote in Indiana, which Republicans rejected.

“Judging by the results I saw in Kansas the other day,” said Representative Phil GiaQuinta, a Democrat who opposed the Indiana bill, “independents, Democrats and Republicans demonstrated by their votes what is most important to them and to me, and it is our personal freedoms and liberty.”

Todd Huston, the Republican speaker of the Indiana House, said he was pleased with the final version of the bill. But when asked about the protests in Indianapolis and the vote in Kansas, he acknowledged that many disagreed.

“We’ve talked about voters having an opportunity to vote, and if they’re unhappy, they’ll have that opportunity both in November and in years to come,” Mr. Houston.

Democrats warned of the consequences of passing the bill, noting the state’s status as the first to do so in a post-Roe America. Business leaders voiced their concern before its passage: The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce urged legislature this week failed to pass the bill, saying it could threaten public health and the business interests of the state.

State Sen. Eddie D. Melton, a Democrat who represents parts of northwest Indiana, spoke against the bill in the Senate on Friday, calling it a rushed process and a power grab.

He reminded Republicans of the resounding vote in Kansas this week in support of abortion rights, a warning to Indiana lawmakers that the party could face a voter backlash.

“If this goes through, the only referendum left is in November,” he said.

Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University Bloomington, said she was concerned about the speed with which the bill in her state passed and the relatively short window for the public to debate its implications.

“Law made in haste is often bad law,” she said. “This underscores the fact that these guys don’t anticipate how unworkable this legislation will be. This will affect thousands of people who get pregnant in Indiana alone.”

Divisions within the Republican Party were repeatedly on display during the session. Representative Ann Vermilion described herself as a proud Republican. But said she thought the legislation went too far, too fast.

“The US Supreme Court made the decision to move abortion rights to the state level, which has peeled back an onion on the details of abortion, revealing layers and layers of such a difficult subject that I myself was not prepared for,” Ms. Vermilion said before voting against the bill.

Other Republicans echoed the complaints during public testimony from anti-abortion residents, advocacy groups and religious leaders. They questioned how lawmakers, who presented themselves to voters as staunch anti-abortion opponents, now gave up an opportunity to pass a ban without exceptions for rape and incest. Some abortion opponents have argued that rape and incest, while traumatic, do not justify ending the life of a fetus that had no control over its conception.

“This bill justifies the wicked, the murderers of babies, and punishes the righteous, the preborn human,” said Representative John Jacob, a Republican who also voted against the bill. He added: “Republicans campaigned that they are pro-life. Pro-life means for life. It’s not just some lives. It means all lives.”

Similar debates have played out in West Virginia, where the House of Delegates passed a bill that would ban nearly all abortions. But dissent erupted when the Senate narrowly voted to remove criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions illegally, citing fears it could exacerbate the state’s existing shortage of health care workers. Legislation has stalled.

Delegate Danielle Walker, a West Virginia Democrat, said she believed the abortion vote in Kansas was a wake-up call for the more moderate contingent of Republican lawmakers.

“I think they see that people are coming out to the polls because the people don’t want this, the people don’t support it,” Ms. Walker.

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, said Indiana offered a glimpse of the dynamic that could deepen in other legislatures in the coming weeks: the difficulty of satisfying their conservative base in the face of other public opposition . to abortion restrictions.

“In Indiana, legislators are now between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “They’re between their base,” which calls for an abortion ban without exception, “and members of the public who say, ‘We support access to abortion.'” You can see how the lawmakers, who balance people’s rights, are also looking at the next election .”

Ava Sasani contributed with reporting.

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Javed Iqbal

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