States across the country are responding to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in different ways. Some have taken steps to protect reproductive rights by enacting new protections into state laws and constitutions, and others have gone the other way, moving to further restrict or ban completely access to abortion services. That’s what’s taking place in Indiana, where lawmakers started discussing a bill Monday that would ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, or threats to the health of the mother or person giving birth. The full state Senate is set to discuss the bill Thursday. The state, unlike some others, did not have a trigger law in place to ban abortion if or when Roe fell.
Republicans. In Indiana, Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate. They have the governorship and every statewide elected office. So Republicans have been campaigning on anti-abortion causes for 40, 50 years now. And so this is the culmination of work they’ve been doing for a long time. Indiana is no stranger to anti-abortion laws, but obviously with the Dobbs decision, they are able to go much further than they ever have before. And in terms of why now, there was discussion during the legislative session earlier this year about whether or not they would put a trigger law in place in anticipation of the Dobbs decision. But they decided it was easier for them to see what the actual ruling was and then come back for a special session, which they’re doing now.
Republican caucuses are deeply divided
There are deep divisions in the Republican caucuses, particularly so far what we’ve heard in the Senate, which is where the bill is starting, over this bill. There’s a sizable faction in the caucus who thinks that current bill that you described doesn’t go far enough. They want a total abortion ban, or at least one very, very close to it, that would only allow abortions in cases where the life of the pregnant person is in danger. And there are some who want to go even further than that and have no exceptions.
There are some Republican senators, though, who have expressed some hesitance about the bill because they think it goes too far. One state senator actually laid out a plan that almost certainly won’t go through, but he wants sort of like a maybe 12- to 15-week limit with extensive exceptions. Other state senators have expressed some hesitance over – well, we’ve from some in the religious community who say, particularly the Jewish leaders, who say this violates our religious freedom. And we had one Republican state senator this week in the committee hearing after that who said, you know, I’m a devout Catholic. I go to church every Sunday, but I have a lot of trouble with the idea that religious freedom is only for one certain religion. So there are some Republicans on all sides of this issue, even in the Republican caucus.
Indiana has become the focus of national attention
You know, this is all happening as Indiana has been the focus of a lot of national attention following the case of a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled to the state with her parents to have an abortion. I imagine that that is sort of ratcheting up the emotion in Indiana around this debate.
And it might be having an effect on the policy itself. The head of the Indiana Senate, Rodric Bray, was asked about what impact that case is having on their deliberations. And he kind of acknowledged that, yeah, it does ratchet up the emotion, as you put it. But I think, you know, in the case of a rape or incest exception, whether or not that should be part of the law, I think the fact that there was this incredibly high-profile case has made that a trickier discussion among the Republicans.
You also have the fact that it works kind of the other way, too, where you have anti-abortion groups, extremist anti-abortion groups, who say we don’t want to be a haven for 10-year-old girls because we don’t want them to be allowed to have an abortion. And that’s been part of the committee testimony we heard this week. So it cuts both ways in that sense, but it definitely is playing a part.
Indiana lawmakers have 40 days
So Indiana special session rules essentially only give them 40 days. And that 40-day clock started at the beginning of July because of some other technical issues. So they only actually have until the end of the day on August 14 to get their work done. Otherwise, basically, they wait until their regular session in January. And the author of the bill, state Senator Sue Glick, this week was kind of mildly threatening her caucus, I guess, when she spoke to reporters and she said, listen, if we can’t come to a consensus, if we can’t figure out something that can get out of the Senate, fine. Then we won’t pass anything. We’ll live with the current Indiana anti-abortion law, and we’ll come back in January and start over. And that’s been brought up by a couple of people now. So that is on the table.
Kamala Harris traveling to Indiana to meet with lawmakers over the abortion bill
So in terms of why they’re sending her there, you know, she has been quite active on issues of reproductive rights, maternal health care predating even the Dobbs decision. But since this has come out – I mean, just in the last month, I was looking at her travel, she’s met with state legislators not only in Indiana, but also in Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina. She’s had, you know, a lot of travel devoted specifically to this issue.
And, you know, one of the things that I get the sense of, and this is not unique to Indiana, is that there is a sense that in the near short term, the fight over reproductive care is really centered on the states. There is just limited actions that the federal government can take. You know, she can be a megaphone, and she can amplify the vision of what the White House wants to do. She can also certainly inform and educate the public. But I think there is a reality that most of this is now going to happen at the states, and that’s why she’s been traveling so much.
Not much impact on statewide races
There’s one notable one this fall, which is a U.S. Senate race, where Republican incumbent Todd Young is running for reelection. He’s likely to win handily with or without the abortion issue on the table. Where it could make a difference is in state House races, so in the state House, the state Senate. But even there, again, Republicans have a supermajority. So at most, and with recent redistricting having been completed, at most, you’re looking at a few seats here or there that might flip. Now, that might be enough to break the supermajority in the House if Democrats can use this issue to get some wins. And that’s not nothing, but we’re not talking about sizable changes.
I do think there are places like Georgia that has a competitive Senate race, Pennsylvania that has a competitive Senate race where this could be an issue. But also I think it’s maybe compounded by a problem from the White House that maybe these aren’t the mos
t popular messengers. I mean, Joe Biden doesn’t have the highest approval ratings right now. So I’m not sure that if you want to focus on abortion, you really need to be sending Joe Biden to Georgia or Pennsylvania to deliver that message.
I think it is fair to say that his own personal opinions on abortion have evolved. You know, I do think when you look at someone like the vice president, you look at the speech she gave right after the Dobbs decision had been leaked at Emily’s List, and there was a sort of fire and intensity in her that you didn’t hear in the same way once the official decision came down. And I do think there’s this sense that this is an issue that the vice president could really own not just symbolically, but she could sort of be the mouthpiece of the administration on. But it’s challenging to do that when she can’t get ahead of the president on policy.
What happens if the abortion bill becomes law
We haven’t heard the idea of any legal challenges from abortion rights activists so far. It’s unlikely that we’ll see significant success even if they do because all of their success in the past was reliant on Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. As for when the bill takes effect, right now, the bill is written to take effect on September 1. So by the time it actually gets passed into law, if it does, they’d only have a couple of weeks.
And we’re talking not just about how this would affect clinics that provide abortions, we’re also talking about how this will affect the practices of doctors across Indiana who are providing prenatal care, because there’s a lot of confusion about what the bill would and wouldn’t allow in terms of how you’re allowed to treat a pregnant person. You know, do you have to wait until she is literally right at death’s door before you can step in and save her life? And there’s outstanding questions about that. So there’s not a lot of time to figure out how that would work before the law takes effect.