Governor Holcomb has signed a near-total abortion ban into law, barely an hour after final approval by the Senate.
The bill allows abortion if there’s a serious health risk to the mother, or in cases of rape or incest within 10 weeks. Abortions would be allowed for fatal birth defects up to 20 weeks. Starting September 15, any other abortion is banned unless the mother faces serious health risk.
The emotionally charged debate lasted four hours in the House and about as long in the Senate, with abortion rights protesters chanting loudly throughout from the hallway — and occasionally from the spectators’ gallery in the House. House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne) argues no one has yet contradicted supporters’ argument that a fetus is a human life, only that it’s not fully developed.
“Neither is a two-year-old. Neither is a 13-year-old,” Lehman says. “I’m not going to put a dot on a line and say this is where life is disposable.”
Holcomb calls the bill “once-in-a-generation legislation” to protect life in Indiana, within what he calls “carefully negotiated exceptions to address some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”
A tearful South Bend Representative Maureen Bauer (D) charged the bill will turn back the clock to an era when women were denied other rights, from getting a divorce to opening their own bank account. And Jeffersonville Representative Rita Fleming (D), a former obstetric specialist who’s supported some past abortion restrictions, says it’s unthinkable that legislators are creating a narrow 10-week window for rape victims, including teenagers or preteens, to get an abortion.
Nine Republicans in the House and nine more in the Senate joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Marion Representative Ann Vermilion (R) says she’s always been pro-life, and says she’s still committed to the state’s interest in protecting life once a fetus has reached viability around 20 weeks. But Vermilion says being pro-life is not incompatible with being “pro-choice and pro-woman.” She says the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade forced her to think about the nuances of the issue in a way legislators haven’t had to before, and warns the bill has been rushed.
And the former hospital administrator says she’s “petrified” that the ban will drive doctors out of Indiana, when the state already has a shortage of medical providers in many rural areas. Bloomington Representative Matt Pierce (D) adds that doctors may be reluctant to act even within the exceptions the law allows, for fear of being second-guessed and potentially losing their licenses.