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Abortion bill advances to full Senate after hours of emotional testimony and debate

Indiana’s Senate Bill 1, a total ban on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, narrowly made it out of committee Tuesday despite having a Republican majority.

As the Indiana Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee wrapped up a combined seven hours of public testimony, 61 people testified, with those opposing abortion saying the bill lacks teeth and does not go far enough while pro-abortion testifiers said it goes much too far.

The bill still passed with seven in favor and five opposed.

While the committee held testimony and voted on amendments in the Senate chamber, chants from the “Love Them Both” anti-abortion rally such as “Let their hearts beat,” “Pro-life is pro-woman,” “Pro-choice is a lie, babies never choose to die,” and others could be heard from outside the chamber. It was almost impossible to hear the suggested amendments being read over their chants.

All four Democrats on the committee voted against the bill, and Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, joined them. Messmer said he decided to vote no after every anti-abortion organization he talked to had told him to vote against the bill and after listening to those people who testified in opposition to the bill.

Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, and Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, were close to joining him.

“There are many reasons not to support this bill on many different levels. This might be the first time in my eight years in this building that I vote yes in hopes of simply seeing a better version of it when it comes to the floor,” said Bassler. “If we don’t (make amendments) I won’t be voting on the floor like I’m going to be voting today.”

Charbonneau followed, saying, “I have sat here the last few days getting physically sick to my stomach about the discussion that I’ve heard, and I don’t know where the endpoint is because after two days of testimony, no one, no one has been willing to shift from two very extreme positions.”

Charbonneau said this leaves him and the other lawmakers with the job of trying to figure out what to do within an extremely emotional, volatile and divisive issue.

He explained his personal struggle with the topic.

“I’m a very devout Catholic. I go to church every Sunday, so I mean it. But I struggle with some of the testimony that we’ve heard over the last two days, and how can that be right, and how can religious freedom only apply to certain religions. I struggle with that,” said Charbonneau.

The future of this bill does not seem bright, according to Charbonneau.

“We have what I think everybody believes is a bad bill,” he said, “and I’m going to vote yes today, and I guess my wish is that we make a bad bill less bad.”

Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, author of the bill, referred to SB 1 as a “vehicle bill” that has strong points and weak ones.

“This is a bill as we’ve seen that no one can agree on all the terms of,” said Glick. “This is the first step in a long process.”

Despite its lack of popularity, Glick asked for her bill to be passed to at least get the discussion started.

“I think there will be multiple amendments. Am I happy with the bill? Not exactly. Nor was I happy when it was drafted. This is a very difficult process, but it’s a very difficult issue. It involves some of the most intimate things that could possibly be discussed,” said Glick. “I’m asking for support from this committee to bring it to the floor so we can discuss it in detail, and if it is the will of the body to kill the bill on the floor, then so be it. But it’s a start.”

Democrats, of course, had a strong reaction to the bill, criticizing it in often emotional debate while Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, ignored many of the amendments they offered. He did not provide reasoning.

The committee passed three amendments and opposed one. Since the bill requires an affidavit from the pregnant rape/incest victim to get an abortion through the rape/incest exception, one of the amendments that was approved would place the affidavit in the person’s permanent health record. Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, and the four Democrats voted against this amendment.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (above, left), D-Indianapolis, asked Glick if she understood the trauma she would be putting women through by asking them to sign a document that says they were raped by a family member. She responded, “Yes”.

Taylor also criticized that the bill would require, for example, a 14-year-old to sign an affidavit under oath stating they are a victim when they can’t even legally sign a contract.

The Senate committee also approved an amendment that sets a time limit for when someone can get an abortion due to rape or incest. If the person is 16 or older, they only have eight weeks to decide, and if they are younger than 16, they have 12 weeks—timelines bill opponents called arbitrary.

This amendment made Taylor emotional as he shared the story of his sister, who had an unwanted pregnancy at only 16. His sister was a victim of a rape and did not tell anyone until after the birth of his nephew. He said the age provision being 16 “tugged at his heart” and that he prayed on what he was going to say about this.

“These 16-year-old girls have been through a traumatic experience. My sister still suffers today. But you’re going to traumatize her again. At 16 years old …” He walked out of the room to collect himself and then returned.

Glick said that a victim should know she could be pregnant as a result of rape or incest and would need to seek the abortion within that eight-week span.

Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, provided a story she siad she had not yet shared, saying that when she was a young woman, she became pregnant while unmarried and didn’t know what to do.

“I was humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed. I should know better. Why weren’t you taking your birth control appropriately? Why were you having sex outside of marriage?” said Yoder. “The shame went on and on and on that I felt. What I needed was time, and the ability to make the decision that was right for me, and I had multiple conversations.”

Yoder waited to tell this story until after the testimony.

“And I haven’t shared this because people who choose differently, their decision should be just as respected. I chose to have my child. I chose to carry out that pregnancy, but I needed that time, and we are restricting that time for people to process,” said Yoder. “And in the case of rape and incest, there’s no amount of time to process that, but restricting it is the absolute wrong direction, and then to make them sign an affidavit is just bad policy.”

Yoder explained to the committee she was voting no not only because of her opinion but because of what all the members of the committee heard during public testimony.

“There are many things that stand out as problematic in this bill. I am disturbed that we did not hear that the only person who came out in support of this bill was actually someone who was being sarcastic. They were trying to be funny, and it wasn’t funny,” she said.

SB 1 now heads to the full Senate.

Zachary Roberts is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.