Senate committee begrudgingly OKs abortion ban bill

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

Anti-abortion legislation that has received practically zero support from advocates or opponents of abortion has passed the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee with amendments, including criminal penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions.

Authored by Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, Senate Bill 1 would enact a near-total ban on abortions in Indiana. As initially proposed, the measure would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.

Following two days of testimony from roughly 60 Hoosiers among hundreds who signed up to testify on SB 1, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed concern about the bill’s current state.

SB 1 passed by a vote of 7-5, with one Republican, Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, joining Democrats in opposition to the bill.

Five out of 16 proposed amendments were heard by the committee, with only three adopted by the end of the hearing.

Committee chair and Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, did not explain why the remainder of the amendments would not be heard.

The adopted measures include Amendment 2, which would allow individuals 16 and older who become pregnant from a rape or incest up to 8 weeks postfertilization to receive an abortion. If a girl 15 or younger is pregnant from a rape or incest, she has up to 12 weeks postfertilization to get an abortion.

Amendment 2 also clarifies that performing any unlawful abortion is a Level 5 felony. Bray noted that criminalization aligns with the penalties doctors face under current Indiana law for performing an illegal abortion, which is currently any abortion performed 20 weeks postfertilization or later.

Additionally, the committee approved Amendment 24, requiring that women who become pregnant due to rape or incest sign an affidavit. That amendment also requires that the affidavit be placed in the women’s permanent health record.

Finally, Amendment 17 would mandate that the same reporting requirements that apply to abortions also apply to terminations of pregnancy allowed by the bill when a fetus can’t survive.

Proposed amendments that were heard but did not survive the committee hearing included permitting abortion care via telehealth, as well as the extension of life insurance, child support, and child or dependent tax deductions to include fetuses at any stage of development.

During public testimony, Hoosier Haylee Sanford said she chose to get an abortion when she was a teenager because she knows firsthand the trauma children can feel when they are born to young parents.

“You want to feel emotionally connected to your parents.  But mine were not emotionally mature enough,” Sanford, who was born to teenage parents, said.

Sanford said she was raised by her grandparents and has struggled with abandonment issues, substance use, anxiety and depression. She said she feared repeating that cycle if she carried her pregnancy to term.

“I did choose a different path. I chose myself,” Sanford said. “I wouldn’t be the mother of two beautiful babies now. Their existence is a result of choosing when and if I wanted to be a mom. I had the opportunity to heal so I could be emotionally available for my children.”

Indianapolis attorney Tracy Betz, who also testified in opposition of the SB 1, said she experienced a life-threatening pregnancy with her second child and almost bled to death during delivery.

“I would have been afraid to have that in a state that doesn’t recognize me as a fully autonomous person,” Betz said. “The child lived and I’m so thankful we were both OK.

“It was a terrifying time,” she added. “I can’t imagine going through it under these circumstances.”

Courtney Milbank of The Bopp Law Firm, who said she represents multiple pro-life organizations, described SB 1 as being a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that  “utterly fails” to offer substantial protection for the unborn due to “numerous and pervasive legal flaws and omissions.”

Milbank maintained there should be no exceptions to abortion unless the mother is facing death. If a rape or incest exception is included, she argued that a law enforcement reporting requirement should be implemented.

Milbank further claimed SB 1 turns a blind eye to instances where prosecutors may refuse to prosecute abortion related-cases, specifically citing Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ public declaration that he would not bring charges in such cases.

Kerry Hyatt Bennett of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence stood in opposition to SB 1 on behalf of domestic violence survivors. She said that being able to decide what to do about a pregnancy might be the only source of control a woman can have in an abusive situation.

“Getting pregnant is not always a choice, but staying pregnant should be,” she said.

During a vote on the bill, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, called SB 1 “fatally flawed” and noted that of the dozens of people who testified on the measure from both sides of the issue, only one person supported it.

Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said he is disappointed that more amendments were not heard.

“Let’s not make this a political issue,” Melton said. “Let’s listen to Hoosiers. Let’s not project our narrow or personal perspective on this because we are going to impact lives across the board.”

In explaining his vote against SB 1, Messmer said the abortion issue demonstrates “the near impossibility of threading the perfect needle in a short, compressed special session.”

Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, voted to move SB 1 forward but noted that there are “many reasons not to support this bill.” He warned that unless the bill is amended on the floor to become a better piece of legislation, he would ultimately vote against the measure.

For his part, Republican Sen. Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso said he has been “physically sick” to his stomach after listening to testimony the past two days with no guidance on how to proceed from “two very extreme positions.”

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

Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director at the ACLU of Indiana, claimed the opinion of most Hoosiers about abortion has been ignored.

“Indiana legislators are putting the health and safety of Hoosier women at risk and again surrendering to the demands of a small group of anti-abortion extremists,” Blair said in a statement.

At the time of the vote, Glick pointedly noted that SB 1 is a vehicle bill. She said that while she is not exactly happy with the legislation, she wants to discuss the bill in detail on the full Senate floor.

“If it’s the will of the body to kill the bill on the floor, then so be it,” Glick said. “But it’s a start.”

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