Indiana GOP keeps Legislature control amid abortion debate

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Indiana Statehouse (IL file photo)

Indiana’s Republican legislators didn’t pay a political price for enacting a state abortion ban despite Democrats trying to capitalize on anger among voters who support abortion rights.

Tuesday’s election results show Republicans will maintain the supermajority control of both the state House and Senate that they’ve held since 2013, giving them power to take action even without any Democrats present.

Democrats failed to defeat any of the Republican lawmakers they had targeted in suburban Indianapolis, northwestern Indiana and the South Bend area where they made the GOP-supported abortion ban a top campaign issue.

The leader of Indiana’s most prominent anti-abortion group called the election results “a big day for life in Indiana,” saying “every pro-life incumbent” state lawmaker won reelection.

“In spite of predictions by some pundits and pollsters that Indiana went too far in its approach to protecting unborn children, yesterday’s election results serve as a reminder that Indiana is a pro-life state,” Indiana Right to Life CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement Wednesday.

The Indiana results stand in contrast to the success abortion rights supporters had in states where access was on the ballot Tuesday, including Michigan voters enshrining it into the state constitution and the defeat in Kentucky of an anti-abortion measure.

Republicans entered the election with a 71-29 Indiana House majority, meaning Democrats needed to pick up five seats to break the two-thirds supermajority. Republicans won at least 68 seats with a handful of races remaining uncalled Wednesday.

Unofficial results showed Republican challengers narrowly leading 10-term Rep. Terri Austin of Anderson and two-term Rep. Rita Fleming of Jeffersonville for what have been Democratic-controlled districts for decades. The Associated Press had not called those races by Wednesday afternoon.

Fleming’s GOP challenger, Scott Hawkins, has declared victory, but the Clark County Clerk’s Office has said the race is still too close to call, according to WFPL-FM.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hawkins led Fleming by 35 votes, WFPL reported. That number had risen to 105 votes as of Thursday morning with 98% of precincts reporting, according to data from the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office.

Fleming has not conceded, and the Indiana House Democratic Caucus released a statement saying it “remains confident that after all the votes are counted, Rita Fleming will remain the representative for Indiana’s 71st House district.”

Republican Daniel Dernulc defeated Sen. Michael Griffin for a long-time Democratic seat in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County, setting up a likely 40-10 GOP Senate majority for the next legislative session starting in early January.

Current Republican lawmakers largely held off numerous hard-right challengers in the May primary who argued that the Legislature had not been aggressive enough in attempting to ban abortion. The law that ultimately passed during a special session over the summer includes exceptions allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest and to protect the life and physical health of the mother — exceptions that were opposed by many anti-abortion activists as making the ban too lax.

The state Supreme Court has left in place a judge’s injunction allowing abortions to continue in Indiana while it considers a lawsuit from abortion clinic operators arguing that the ban violates the state constitution.

Republican candidates largely focused their legislative campaigns on issues such as inflation and crime — concerns widely believed to favor the GOP.

Republican state Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville, who joined Democrats in opposing the abortion ban, said Democrats missed the window of opportunity a couple months ago when more voters were focused on abortion rights.

“The economic picture is probably predominant now,” Becker said. “I do think the injunction has sort of taken the sting out of the abortion ban.”

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