Lauer, Walker open to total abortion ban

Columbus’ Republican members of the Indiana House and Indiana Senate on Friday did not rule out potentially voting in favor of a total ban on abortion without exceptions in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother, possibly less than two weeks from now.

Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, said that because the U.S. Supreme Court took away a woman’s Constitutional right to abortion enshrined for nearly 50 years under Roe v. Wade, lawmakers meeting in special session July 6 will seek to vote on legislation that could make abortion illegal in Indiana.

He called Friday’s ruling a “monumental” decision.

“I believe that the legislature will address the topic of abortion and the regulations that exist today in Indiana,” Lauer said of the special session, which Gov. Eric Holcomb initially called for lawmakers to consider refunding surplus tax money. “I expect we will be addressing that, and my hope is we will move Indiana in a pro-life direction, and how far Indiana ends up going is going to be a result of debate and discussion.”

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said his policy choice would be in favor of some exceptions, such as when a woman becomes pregnant because of rape or incest, but he didn’t rule out voting for a total ban.

“I might vote for something like that, but I have to hear what those arguments are first,” Walker said. “I’d have to give it consideration,” he said, “if that’s the only option on the table.”

Walker said he agreed with the court majority ruling that abortion should never have been a federal right and was within the purview of states to regulate as legislatures saw fit. Most people’s views on abortion are set and unlikely to move, he said.

As states move to restrict or protect abortion, he said, “they may continue to fracture the nation rather than bring us together.”

Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly hold virtually unchecked lawmaking power with a supermajority and have long pledged to restrict or outlaw abortion in the state if Roe was overturned. Lauer said he would consider exceptions on banning abortion in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life was at risk, but he also said Friday he also would consider bans that are even more restrictive.

“If a bill came forward that didn’t include all the exceptions, I would take a look at it, but I would likely be in favor,” Lauer said.

Holcomb in a statement Friday encouraged lawmakers to act.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is clear, and it is now up to the states to address this important issue. We’ll do that in short order in Indiana. I’ve already called the General Assembly back on July 6, and I expect members to take up this matter as well,” Holcomb said.

“I have been clear in stating I am pro-life. We have an opportunity to make progress in protecting the sanctity of life, and that’s exactly what we will do.”

‘Incredibly devastating’

The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe and ending a federal legal right to abortion hit hard with Columbus residents such as Joy Kraft Lawler.

“I’m a survivor of severe sexual abuse,” Lawler said, adding that a relative raped her and could have impregnated her at age 12. “And for me, this decision is incredibly devastating so devastating that I really don’t know what to say.”

But she added that her family line includes more trauma, including her great-grandmother dying after a botched abortion when the procedures were illegal.

“I feel enraged,” Lawler said. “I don’t feel hopeless because this is still America, and we can still fight. And we’re going to fight.

“This is still a democracy.”

Lawler, who helped the Bartholomew County Democratic Women organize a recent 300-person rally at Columbus City Hall to protest the court’s then-expected decision to change the law, said she is bothered by how many local, state and national leaders and citizens define sanctity of life, especially when she said they seem to have little concern for even the youngest of school children being protected from death by assault weapons.

Meanwhile, during a media briefing Friday afternoon, Indiana Right To Life President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Fichter called the ruling “a great opportunity to come together correctively” in Indiana. “We must be a state showing care and concern for pregnant mothers.”

Fichter was asked about exceptions to the no-abortion ruling such as in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

“That discussion needs to happen with love and compassion,” Fichter said. “Our stance is that all Hoosiers have the right to be born.”

But he said figures that he is familiar with show that only 1% of abortions are linked to rapes.

Political reactions

Columbus’ Republican congressional delegation in Washington also hailed Friday’s ruling.

“Today is a monumental day for the protection of life in America and a defining moment for our nation,” Sen. Todd Young, a Republican facing re-election in November, said. “Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and the Supreme Court has corrected a historic injustice.

“The American people will now have the opportunity, through their state elected officials, to decide our laws when it comes to protecting life and protecting women. It’s now time to work on solutions that affirm the right to life and support pregnant women and mothers,” Young said.

Rep. Greg Pence, R-Columbus, also hailed Friday’s ruling. “Today is a new day for our nation when life wins, freedom wins. As a father and grandfather, I am happy to see the justices of our Supreme Court have affirmed that every person is granted the right to life under the United States Constitution,” Pence said in a statement.

Indiana Democrats expressed alarm.

State Rep. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said in a statement, “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided to go against nearly 50 years of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade. The right to privacy is one of the most important in a free society, and today the Supreme Court has made it open season for state governments to limit women’s rights to privacy.

“I trust women to make this deeply personal decision. Government doesn’t have any business being in exam rooms for folks’ healthcare decisions. Instead of banning abortion, we should focus our efforts on improving access to affordable healthcare, lowering our infant and maternal mortality rates and expanding access to childcare. Those are the kinds of pro-life and pro-family policies that will benefit Hoosiers.”

Democratic Secretary of State candidate Destiny Wells assailed Friday’s ruling. She noted recent polls showed two-thirds of Americans opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Women dying is non-negotiable for me,” Wells said. “I’m a woman candidate. I need to make sure women are being represented at the ballot box. We don’t have a voting system in place that allows us to be truly represented. If we did, we wouldn’t be talking about life-saving care being outlawed.

“Reproductive freedom is reproductive health care,” she said. “What it means for Hoosier women at large is no longer having access to health care that keeps them both healthy and alive. It’s also how they are affected economically and socially as a citizen. They’re carrying the burden of raising our future, but in doing this, they’re being asked to sacrifice the future they might have for Republican gamesmanship.”

Myla Eldridge, vice chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement, “It is unclear how extreme the Indiana Republican Party will go, but politicians like U.S. Sen. Todd Young have signed pledges they wish for the state to enact a total ban on abortions even in the cases of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother.”

“My heart breaks today, because with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion, a 50-year understanding and American standard has been stripped away from women of all stripes, colors, and backgrounds,” Eldridge said.

Lauer said he is working with Republican caucus lawmakers who plan to introduce abortion legislation at the July 6 special session. Both he and Walker declined to say whether they would author legislation.

“My position is I’d like to see a future where abortion is a relic of the past,” Lauer said. “We need to protect these children just waiting to be born and we need to protect and support mothers.”

–Reporter Brian Blair contributed to this story.