Indiana lawmakers pass anti-abortion bill as protesters chant ‘shame on you’

Indiana’s Republican-controlled state legislature has approved a bill to outlaw nearly all abortions, making Indiana the first state to pass new legislation to severely restrict abortion access after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

The bill’s passage also comes on the heels of Kansas voters rejecting an attempt to revoke abortion rights in that state, and after the case of a 10-year-old rape survivor in Ohio – who sought an abortion in Indiana after her state banned abortion – drew international scrutiny.

At least 10 states have effectively outlawed abortion after the Supreme Court’s ruling on 24 June. Anti-abortion lawmakers are expected to advance more restrictions in nearly half the US in the coming weeks and months. If it is signed into law, Indiana’s bill goes into effect on 15 September.

Anti-abortion lawmakers frequently referenced their Christian faith during debate in the Indiana House of Representatives on 5 August, while at least one GOP lawmaker warned that the state would face the wrath of God by allowing any abortions under any circumstances.

Following a final vote of 62-38 in the chamber, a protester shouted out “shame on you, Indiana.” Outside the doors, a crowd of protesters chanted “shame on you.”

The bill then went on to pass in the state Senate by a vote of 28-19. It is expected to be signed into law by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb.

Following House amendments, the bill outlaws abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with exceptions only in cases of rape or incest, “lethal fetal anomaly” or to prevent the “permanent impairment of the life or physical health of the pregnant woman.”

Survivors of rape or incest can only seek an abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. According to Indiana state statutes, incest does not include sexual conduct with a cousin.

“There’s no scientific reason for 10 weeks,” Democratic state Senator Shelli Yoder said on the Senate floor on 5 August. “This is a number that sounded merciful enough for Republicans to message on.”

Providers who perform illegal abortions would also have their licenses stripped.

The legislation – which passed within two weeks at the start of a special legislative session convened by the governor – was not considered in the state legislature’s health committees. Instead, it was sent to committees that review criminal code.

‘We have to stop calling ourselves pro-life’

Republican state Rep Ann Vermillion, among a handful of Republicans in the state House to support an unsuccessful amendment to allow abortion up to 13 weeks, voted against the bill, pointing to her “ideological” transformation within the last several weeks on the issue.

“I believe no government should take away a right to safe medical care,” she said in her emotional remarks on the House floor. “She should be able to choose her life and wellness during an emotional and traumatic time.”

She also condemned the the frequent injection of Christianity and in the hours-long debate and called the GOP’s anti-abortion rhetoric “propaganda”.

“After these two weeks, I am begging our Republican party to review the word … ‘pro life’. I think we have to stop calling ourselves pro-life if it only means we have a priority list on life,” she said.

Republican state Rep John Jacob was among three GOP House lawmakers who voted against the bill, believing it was not strict enough. He called it a “a weak, pathetic bill that still allows babies to be murdered.”

“You are inviting the judgment of God on our state and our nation,” he said in remarks on the House floor on Friday. “Abortion is evil and it is barbaric.”

Democratic state Rep Renee Pack, a US Army veteran, told the chamber that she made a choice to have an abortion in 1990 while deployed at Fort Hood.

“And after all I’ve been through in my life, it took me getting to the state house for my colleagues to call me a murderer,” she said in her remarks to the House. “Sir, I am not a murderer, and my sisters are not murderers either. … We believe we have command over our bodies. That’s who we are.”

Indiana state Rep Renee Pack speaks out against an anti-abortion bill during debate on 5 August

(AP)

Democratic State Rep Sue Errington, a former public policy director at Planned Parenthood, said the issue of exceptions is “really not the heart” of the legislation.

“The core of the issue is… who decides?” she said. “The heavy hand of government will decide for them. Even though every woman’s situation is different, [the bill] says one size fits all.”

She criticised anti-abortion legislation as predictated on the idea that competent adults are unable to determine their health decisions, damning Indiana’s “cruel vision for women in our state.”

“You can trust us, us women, to know what we can handle in our lives,” she said. “This suggestion that we do not know what’s best for ourselves demeans us as human beings and relegates women to second-class citizenship.”

To the protesters outside the chamber, she said, “I’ve been in your shoes before. I lived in the days before Roe. I don’t want to go back there. The only abortions you can ban are safe, legal abortions.”

Abortion care in Indiana has come under an international spotlight, highlighting the fragility of care throughout the midwest and across the US.

An Indianapolis-area obstetrician-gynecologist who provided abortion care to a 10-year-old rape survivor is now mounting a potential defamation lawsuit against the state’s Republican attorney general Todd Rokita, who was among GOP figures who joined a media blitz to undermine her account and baselessly claim that she did not follow the law.

That doctor, Dr Caitlin Bernard, urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

Her employer, Indiana University Health, the state’s largest health system and the only academic medical centre in the state, said in a statement that the bill will negatively impact its ability to provide “safe and effective patient care” and could “deter physicians seeking to live and practice healthcare” in the state.

Vice President Kamala Harris also traveled to the state to meet with legislators last week.

Indiana currently allows abortion up to about 22 weeks of pregnancy, but restrictions include mandatory waiting periods, state-directed counseling and ultrasounds, bans on certain health insurance coverage.

Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws, or TRAP laws, also require providers to have so-called admitting privileges at local hospitals and other onerous regulations for provider offices, like requiring certain room sizes.

The state also bans telemedicine appointments to access medication abortion, the most common form of abortion care, using prescription drugs that can often by taken in the comfort of a patient’s home, in many cases. The new bill, if it becomes law, will also outlaw medication abortions.

Roughly 55 per cent of all Indiana abortions in 2020 were medication abortions.

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