Indiana abortion bill passes both chambers, heads to governor - IndyStar

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Indiana's near-total ban on abortion is now in the hands of Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Late Friday, the Indiana Senate voted 28-19 to accept Senate Bill 1 as passed by the House earlier in the day – making the legislature the first in the nation to vote to restrict abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door by overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

"It makes Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the nation," said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville.

The governor hasn't commented on the specifics of SB 1 but has said that he is "pro-life" and called on lawmakers to address the issue during the special session.

"We have an opportunity to make progress in protecting the sanctity of life, and that’s exactly what we will do," he said in a tweet after the Supreme Court decision

The bill passed the House, 62-38 on Friday afternoon. The chamber’s 71 Republicans split on the issue, with nine voting against the bill. The party has been divided on the issue, with some feeling the bill goes too far in restricting abortion and others feeling it doesn’t go far enough.

McNamara carried the bill in the House. She said Friday the goal of the bill was to strengthen protections for women and babies. The majority of Republicans wanted to see a stronger bill, without exceptions for rape and incest, but most ultimately settled for what they could get passed.

"Ultimately, they're looking at the opportunity for 99% of abortions in the state of Indiana to be eliminated one way or the other," she said after the vote Friday.

No Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

Friday's late-night vote closed two dramatic weeks at the Indiana Statehouse, capping off a 13-hour marathon of debate on the controversial measure.

As the House’s soft-spoken chaplain led the chamber in an invocation to open the final day of the special legislative session – called to pass financial relief but coopted to ban abortion after the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in late June – a small but vocal contingent of abortion-rights protesters nearly drowned out her appeal to God with chants of “bans off our bodies.”  

The crowd of protesters flocking to the Statehouse had shrunk considerably since the start of the abortion debate last week. A dozen or so people holding signs watched the proceedings from large windows at the back of the House chamber and another dozen or so, including several anti-abortion activists, dotted the viewing gallery.

More:As lawmakers try to ban abortions, some Republicans point to contraception as the answer

Likely all of them were disappointed with the bill passed Friday, which bans abortion except in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies and when the life of the pregnant person is at danger.

Polling has consistently demonstrated that a majority of Hoosiers support at least some degree of abortion access.

Anti-abortion groups have consistently opposed SB 1 because of the few cases in which it would still allow abortion. Last week, Indiana Right to Life said it "did not wait 50 years for the full reversal of Roe vs. Wade for this."

On Thursday night, the majority of Republicans in the House attempted to remove exceptions to the abortion ban in cases of rape and incest. That effort failed, as it did last week in the Senate.

Rep. John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, is one of the chamber's most extreme abortion opponents and supported a failed effort to turn the bill into a total abortion ban, without exceptions. On the floor Friday, Jacob said he would vote against SB 1 because "it is a weak, pathetic bill that still allows babies to be murdered." Jacob lost his Republican primary race in May.

More:How every House lawmaker voted on rape, incest exemptions in Indiana abortion law

Jacob's comment incensed at least one of his fellow lawmakers.

Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, told the chamber she had an abortion in 1990 at Fort Hood, in central Texas, while serving in the Army. Pack was married and already the mother of two children. She said she had to choose between having another child, or continuing her military career.

"After everything I've been through in my life ... it took me getting to the Statehouse for my colleagues to call me a murderer," Pack said, raising her voice. "Sir, I am not a murderer. And my sisters are not murderers, either. We are pro-choice. That is what we are.

"We believe we have command over our own bodies."

It wasn't just amendments to make the bill more strict that were voted down. Lawmakers also rejected an amendment that would have allowed abortions due to rape or incest up until 20 weeks postfertilization instead of 10, as is currently in the bill. Nine Republicans joined the chamber's 29 Democrats to vote in favor of that expansion − one of many illustrations of the divide that has fractured the majority caucus over the last two weeks and made passage of the bill a delicate needle to thread.

The struggle for the Republican Party may have best been described by Rep. Ann Vermilion, R-Marion, who reminded the chamber of her GOP bona fides – limited government, fiscal conservative, Friday night lights, Sunday church – before admitting how the last two weeks have challenged her beliefs.

It’s not uncommon, during lengthy debates, for lawmakers to mill about and chat outside the chamber. Vermilion’s speech, though, seemed to grip her colleagues. Several representatives wiped away tears as they sat in their seats and a few people openly wept in the wings.

Choking back emotion, Vermilion said she has struggled to square the “pro-life” platform of her party and religion – tenets so central to her identity – with her own “pro-woman, pro-choice” feelings. Feelings, she said, that three-quarters of her colleagues who are male can’t understand.

“The last two weeks have changed me profoundly,” Vermilion said. “I have moved in my ideology in ways I never imagined.”

She said that, despite her strong Christian faith, religious ideology has no place in the legislative process. She said she supports protecting life when a fetus could be viable outside the womb but is also a "pro-woman, pro-choice Republican" and can't support the zero-week abortion ban in the bill. She said she thinks there are many Republican women who hold the same middle ground.

Democrats have derided the bill as one that's cruel, dangerous and will result in "forced pregnancy."

"The government should not be making health decisions for women," said Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis. "The decision to have an abortion is extremely personal, one that should be left up to a woman and her doctor."

In the past week, the Indianapolis business community joined a long list of organizations − including every major medical association − in opposing the legislation over fears of the economic impact such a ban will have on the state. Already, one major event has said it is "deeply troubled" by the proposal. Gen Con's president, David Hoppe, said Wednesday that if the state passed SB 1, it will "make it more difficult for us to remain committed to Indiana as our long-term annual home."

Visit Indy said that conventions and major trade shows have reached out for "clarification on what's happening with the bill and how it's moving."

The House made several changes to the bill that started in the Senate, including:

  • Terminating licensing for abortion clinics, requiring both medical and surgical abortion procedures be performed in hospital or outpatient surgery centers owned by hospitals.
  • Removing new criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions.
  • Nixing a provision that granted the attorney general the ability to prosecute abortion and other crimes in counties in which a prosecutor refuses to prosecute. Instead, the House added creation of a task force to study instances where prosecutors make "a blanket refusal" to enforce certain laws.

More:House votes 'yes' on $200 taxpayer refunds, support services, now Senate will weigh in

Last week, the Senate passed the bill by the narrowest of margins. Several senators said they voted in favor of the bill only to keep it moving through the legislative process. They'd hoped that the House would tighten the exceptions that would continue to allow for abortion.

Arguably, though, the House broadened the exceptions − if by degrees. The Senate had written an exception for abortion in cases in which the life of the pregnant person was in danger. The House amended that to include "permanent impairment" to the physical health, in addition to the pregnant person's life. The House also removed language supported by senators to require victims of rape and incest to get a notarized affidavit stating the reason for their abortion.

The Senate would have given girls 15 years old and younger 12 weeks to obtain an abortion, while allowing just eight weeks for women and girls who are at least 16 years old. The House version allows 10 weeks for all rape and incest victims.

Late Friday evening, Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said she was OK with those changes and urged her colleagues in the chamber to concur on the House version.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, who voted no on the Senate version of the bill because he didn't think it was strong enough, said the bill sent back by the House was worse. He urged his colleagues to vote against the concurrence and continue to work on the bill.

Following the nearly 10 p.m. vote, the abortion bill now heads to the governor. If Holcomb signs it, the law will take effect Sept. 15.

If he vetoes it, lawmakers could override him with a simple majority in each chamber.

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

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