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Special session likely to ban abortion begins with day of raucous protest

Nobody seemed happy with Senate Bill 1 at the Indiana Statehouse on Monday.

Hundreds of pro- and anti-abortion protestors argued, chanted, stomped and waved signs both inside and outside the Statehouse as lawmakers began a special session expected to ban abortion in Indiana. Hours of public testimony, protests and press conferences showed that nobody was satisfied with SB 1—not even Vice President Kamala Harris, who traveled to Indianapolis to speak on the issue.

“The government should not be telling an individual what to do, especially as it relates to one of the most intimate and personal decisions a woman could make,” Harris said. “The president and I take seriously our work that is about protecting the health, the safety and the wellbeing of the women of America, and that includes the women of Indiana. And that is why I’m here.”

The Senate held its first reading of SB 1, authored by Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, and referred the bill to the Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure. The committee held public testimony showing neither side is happy with the bill—for extremely opposing reasons.

Upset Hoosiers formed lines outside the reading and committee meetings waiting to voice their opinions. A pro-abortion protest hosted by ACLU of Indiana, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, Women4Change Indiana lined all four floors of the rotunda gallery.

Many of the protestors had to take off work to be there. Carly Traynor’s employer allowed her to be off to attend the rally, and she brought her friend Naomi S. Gold.

“We don’t believe that people have the right to choose for us, and we have the right to choose for ourselves,” said Gold.

“I’m surprised that we are fighting this fight in our lifetimes,” said Traynor. “This is something that, as millennials, we grew up with and sort of took for granted. Having to fight this fight that our parents and grandparents were fighting generations ago is a bit of a surprise.”

The anti-abortion crowd was just as unhappy with SB 1. Many anti-abortion protestors were upset about exceptions included in the bill. Eddie Heavner, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Laporte, waited in line outside the Senate asking his Republican elected officials to “keep your pro-life promise.”

“It’s time we make good on the promises that we’ve been telling the people of Indiana,” said Heavner. “I think people ought to do what they say they’re going to do.”

While around 50 people gave public testimony in front of the Senate Committee on Rules and Hearings, protesters could be heard outside chanting, singing and stomping. Some anti-abortion protestors held Bibles over their heads as they sang in unison, while pro-abortion protesters chanted, “Vote them out.”

Inside the chamber, people ranging from doctors to religious leaders to government officials poke.

“My concern is that OB providers in rural areas will simply decide to stop providing maternity care,” said Dr. Mary Abernathy, who is the chair of Indiana’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee.

Abernathy cited a study that found a national abortion ban would result in a 21% increase in deaths caused by pregnancies overall and 33% for Black women. The study is based on CDC data the MMRC says is not as accurate as the data it uses for its yearly reports.

second study with the same author (as well as two other authors) estimated a 9% increase for Indiana specifically.

Dr. Daniel Elliott, president of the Indiana Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said the chapter is “neutral on the current language of this bill.”

“First, we believe in the sanctity of patient-physician relationships and do feel the current language is supportive of this within emergency medicine,” Elliott said. “Second, we want emergency physicians to be able to provide lifesaving interventions and treatments consistent with the standard of care without fear of prosecution …

“We feel the current language within this bill does provide these protections within emergency medicine. And we encourage any modified or amended language to continue to provide these protections for emergency physicians and our patients.”

Multiple testimonies were guided by the speaker’s faith.

“I plead with you, abolish abortion in the state of Indiana without exception. But don’t stop there,” said Seth Leeman, senior pastor at Noblesville Baptist Church. “Lead your constituents to repent of their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who is ready and willing to pardon anyone who comes to Him in penitent faith. If the language of this bill isn’t changed, innocent children will die.”

Immediately following Leeman, Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, senior consultant for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, read a statement from the council and the Indiana Board of Rabbis.

“Jewish beliefs on when life begins are varied yet consistent in the view that a fetus is a part of the pregnant woman, not an independent human life,” Spiegel read. “Under Jewish law, abortion is not only permissible in some circumstances but is required if necessary to protect the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman.”

Peter Breen, a former state representative from Illinois and current vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, crossed the border to praise the principle behind the bill but question some of its language.

Breen said of the Thomas More Society, “Our mission is to assist state legislators with the right words to draft pro-life legislation that actually does what you want the legislation to do.”

By redefining abortion, Breen said, SB 1 would “exclude the direct abortions of certain disabled unborn babies” and remove the conscience protections for physicians who don’t want to perform certain abortions based on religious beliefs.

Attorney General Todd Rokita also wanted to express concern regarding the wording of the bill.

“There are a number of substantive and technical issues with this bill,” said Corrine Youngs, policy director and legislative counsel to the AG.

One potential problem she noted was the bill not limiting when an abortion can occur for the three exceptions.

“I am almost 33 weeks pregnant, but even a woman at 40 weeks could get an abortion under any of these exceptions,” Youngs said.

Youngs also pointed out that someone claiming her pregnancy was the result of rape or incest only has to sign an affidavit to get an abortion and suggested having to report to law enforcement or provide evidence to have “some sort of accountability for this exception.”

“Without such measures, there’s no justice for the woman and only the perpetrator and the abortion industry will benefit,” Youngs said.

The committee will continue hearing public testimony 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday and is expected to vote on SB 1 afterward, according to a previously released schedule. The Senate Committee on Appropriations will convene in the Senate Chamber to hear Senate Bill 2 and Senate Bill 3 at 2 p.m.

Zachary Roberts and Jack Sells are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.