Health Indiana News

Indiana Republican lawmakers voted Friday to force thousands more people to give birth every year in a state with some of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.

And Gov. Eric Holcomb quickly signed the near-total abortion ban into law.

“Following the overturning of Roe, I stated clearly that I would be willing to support legislation that made progress in protecting life,” Holcomb said. “In my view, SEA 1 (ss) accomplishes this goal”

Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville), the bill’s House sponsor, said it makes Indiana what she calls the most “pro-life” – that is, anti-abortion – state in the country.

“It is consistent with our overall goal to care for mother and baby,” McNamara said.

Abortions would only be allowed if the pregnant person’s serious health or life is at risk; if there’s a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks post-fertilization; and in cases of rape or incest, but only up to 10 weeks.

Rep. Joanna King (R-Middlebury), the bill’s co-sponsor, said she believes life begins at conception.

“I believe life is a gift,” King said. “This body has the duty to protect life.”

Rep. Carolyn Jackson (D-Hammond) said the bill is not about being “pro-life.” She said it’s about the state “punishing women for their biology.”

“And it is cruel, it’s unjust and it’s downright despicable,” Jackson said.

The House vote was 62 to 38, with nine Republicans joining every Democrat to oppose the measure.

Rep. Cindy Ledbetter (R-Newburgh) is one of those Republicans. She talked about her own unplanned pregnancy when she was young. She said she was poor when she came to Indiana and lacked access to health care services. Ledbetter said the state has failed to help provide services that could’ve prevented abortions over the years.

“I cannot, in good conscience, vote for this bill,” Ledbetter said.

Rep. Ann Vermilion (R-Marion) also voted against the measure. She called herself “pro-life and pro-choice” and said she worries the ban will galvanize voters and force Republicans out of office.

“I think we have to stop calling ourselves ‘pro-life’ if it only means we have a priority list on life,” Vermilion said.

In an emotional, and at times tearful speech, Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend) said she sees people getting involved in politics because of this issue, “as if their future depended on it.”

“Forced birth is not freedom,” Bauer said. “Indiana’s going to force women and girls to give birth when 50 percent of our state is a child care desert. Forced birth in the only wealthy nation that does not provide paid family medical leave. Forced birth in a nation where Black moms face higher rates of death from pregnancy and childbirth. Forced birth where we average one mass shooting per day and have no universal health care or universal child care.”

A few House Republicans who cast “no” votes Friday did so because they think the ban doesn’t go far enough. One of those is Rep. John Jacob (R-Indianapolis). He’s an anti-abortion extremist who believes all abortions should be banned, even when the pregnant person would die.

“Human life begins at conception,” Jacob said. “Murder is the taking of an innocent human being’s life. And abortion always takes the life of an innocent pre-born human being.”

Rep. Renee Pack (D-Indianapolis) didn’t hold back her anger at Jacob’s remarks.

“Sir, I am not a murderer. And my sisters are not murderers, either,” Pack said. “We are pro-choice. That is what we are. We believe that we have command over our own bodies. That’s who we are.”

More than half of the House Republican caucus wanted a more restrictive ban. They voted Thursday for an amendment that would’ve stripped out the rape and incest protections.

But most of the them ended up voting for the final bill. Rep. Jeff Ellington (R-Bloomfield) likened it to leading 100 troops in battle. He chose, he said, to fight to save 93 of them, rather than abandon all 100.

“I’m going to take this foundational building block and make a decision for the future,” Ellington said.

The Senate sent the bill to the governor’s desk by a 28 to 19 vote.

Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) said the ban is the culmination of years of battles.

“We will always have more work to do because we need to make it unimaginable to end an unborn baby’s life,” Brown said.

Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) said women shouldn’t have to ask for control over their own bodies.

“It’s not compassionate. It’s not pro-life,” Yoder said. “It’s pro-punishment. Punishment of women who dare to live as freely as men.”

Indiana Right to Life, one of the state’s most influential anti-abortion organizations, had long opposed the bill for not restricting abortion enough. And in a statement, IRTL President and CEO Mike Fichter said the group still couldn’t fully endorse the measure.

“We do acknowledge the path forward is to either embrace the potential to end the vast majority of abortions in Indiana now, or to allow all abortions to continue under current law,” Fichter said.

Fichter applauded some changes to the bill made by the House, particularly the provision banning abortion clinics from operating in the state.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates CEO Jennifer M. Allen called the measure an “outrageous” attack on maternal health.

“Indiana government is inserting itself into private decisions about when and whether to have children and it is unconscionable and unacceptable,” Allen said.

The ACLU of Indiana said its legal team is evaluating “every legal avenue available” to defend access to abortion.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.