VP Harris meets with Indiana lawmakers, abortion-rights advocates

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Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in Indianapolis on Monday as part of what appears to be a more aggressive and personal campaign for abortion rights and an effort to elevate Democratic lawmakers in red states as they oppose proposed abortion bans.

Harris arrived in Indianapolis on the first day of the Republican-dominated Legislature’s special session, where the Indiana Senate is considering a bill to ban most abortions, with a few exceptions.

The vice president — a former prosecutor who has maintained that decisions on abortion should be left up to the person who is pregnant — told a roundtable of Indiana Democratic lawmakers and abortion-rights advocates that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade took away a constitutional right from American women.

“An individual should be able to choose based on their personal beliefs and the dictates of their faith, but 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 during a meeting at the Indiana State Library.

A block away at the Statehouse, thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest Senate Bill 1, which would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, a fatal fetal anomaly and to protect the life of the mother.

Harris said such exceptions will still result in a near-total ban on abortions in the state.

“To be clear — and maybe some people need to actually learn how a woman’s body works — but when you understand how a woman’s body works, you will understand that the parameters that are being proposed mean that for the vast majority of women, by the time she realizes she is pregnant, she will effectively be prohibited from having access to reproductive health care that would allow her to choose what happens to her body,” Harris said.

Indiana Democrats have criticized Senate Bill 1 as an attack on women’s rights, noting that it does not make exceptions for the health of the mother, while anti-abortion group Indiana Right to Life felt it didn’t go far enough, calling it “weak and troubling” for its lack of enforcement provisions and criminal penalties.

A poll by the COVID States Project found that 40% of Hoosiers support abortion if it could harm women’s health while only 24% opposed it in those cases.

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat representing District 7, said the decision of whether to carry out a pregnancy should be left up to individuals, not politicians.

“For Republicans, overturning Roe is only the beginning,” Carson said. “Their very extreme agenda includes plans to criminalize abortion across our country, and next it will take aim at other basic human rights including birth control.”

Indiana House Minority Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said Democrats remain determined to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible for Hoosier women.

“Unlike our colleagues on the right, we understand that abortion is a deeply personal decision that is best left up to a woman and her doctor, not members of the General Assembly,” GiaQuinta said.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a number of “trigger laws” went into effect in Republican-led states that effectively banned abortion immediately after the ruling. Despite having a supermajority in the Legislature and a Republican governor, Indiana Republicans did not enact such a law, and for now abortion remains legal in the state up to 20 weeks postfertilization.

Indiana Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said Republicans have started a process that, if successful, “will have deadly outcomes for pregnant women in the state of Indiana” while noting that the state has the third highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.

“We want to make it clear that the supermajority’s effort to push a total ban through this Legislature is not the will of the people of Indiana,” he said. “Women will not go quietly into the night.”

The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking issued a statement Monday asking lawmakers to include a component in the legislation that ensures confidentiality and privacy for victims of rape and incest.

No victim should ever be required to publicly disclose their rape if abortion is outlawed in Indiana,” the statement read. “If a victim reports a sexual assault to law enforcement, a public record is created that will follow a victim forever. Currently, 63 percent of victims do not report their rape to law enforcement. We believe a health care professional, in the context of treatment for the assault, is an appropriate alternative to law enforcement.”

Harris’ arrival in Indianapolis is the latest in a series of meetings with Democratic lawmakers in states where abortion access is, or has already been, greatly restricted, including Florida, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.

The vice president last weekend visited Pennsylvania, where Attorney General Josh Shapiro is mounting a campaign to become the next governor. He faces Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican state senator, in what’s expected to be a tight race that could determine the fate of abortion access in the Keystone State.

Indiana lawmakers have three weeks to pass an abortion bill. The special session is required to end by Aug. 14.

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