Lauer, Lucas give views on abortion bill

State legislators representing Bartholomew County are preparing to consider a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Indiana as debate shifts to the House following the Senate’s narrow approval of the measure this past weekend.

Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, and Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, say they favor banning most abortions in the state, though they expressed different views on what exemptions should be allowed.

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who represents a portion of Bartholomew County, did not respond to a request for an interview.

The comments from state legislators come after a House committee on Tuesday approved moving the Senate bill to the full House in an 8-5 vote, advancing it with amendments. The House is expected to begin debate on the bill this morning.

The bill includes exemptions for rape and incest cases and when the life or health of the mother is in danger. Victims of rape and incest — regardless of age — would be able to get abortions up to 10 weeks after pregnancy.

The bill also would ban abortion clinics, which provided nearly all abortion procedures in Indiana last year, and would only allow abortions at hospitals, ambulatory outpatient surgical centers and birthing centers.

Lucas said the version of the bill that cleared the House committee on Tuesday is “heading in the right direction.”

“I’ve said from Day 1 that I think Indiana should do away with abortion with the exception of the life and health of the mother, rape and incest, and it looks like we’re heading in that direction,” he said. “But we need to provide some support, help out the expectant mothers, and my ultimate goal is to make Indiana the easiest state in the nation to adopt a child.”

Lauer suggested that his preference would be for a more restrictive bill, but said he feels, overall, that the bill pending in the House represents a move in a “more pro-life direction,” acknowledging that “this is a complex issue.”

Lauer said he is not in favor of criminal penalties for pregnant women or girls who violate the state’s abortion laws. But when asked if he was in favor of exemptions in cases of rape and incest, Lauer said, “I prefer that we have a life-of-the-mother-only exception.”

“However, I do recognize that the bill as it currently stands does strengthen protections for the unborn in those (other) exceptional situations as well,” Lauer said. “The bill as it stands, (as) I see it, is moving in a more pro-life direction when it comes to the exemptions. I think the bill will continue to move forward, and there will continue to be changes to the bill.”

“In its final form, I want to see the bill strengthen protections for the unborn and for Hoosier mothers, and I’m confident that we’ll find a way forward,” Lauer said.

Indiana is one of the first Republican-controlled states to debate tighter abortion laws since the U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned the precedent establishing a national right to an abortion, The Associated Press reported.

So far, the task has proven to be difficult, with Republicans facing some party divisions and Democrats seeing a possible election-year boost.

Last week, the GOP-controlled legislature in West Virginia passed up the chance to approve an abortion ban that included exceptions for victims of rape and incest, as well as for medical emergencies, according to wire reports. That move delayed further action until later in August.

On Tuesday, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure in a conservative state with deep ties to the anti-abortion movement that would have allowed the Republican-controlled legislature to tighten restrictions or ban the procedure outright, according to wire reports.

In Indiana, the proposed abortion ban has so far been met with opposition across the political spectrum, albeit for different reasons.

Abortion-rights supporters have objected to the proposed measure’s tighter restrictions on the procedure, while opponents have said it is too lenient with its exceptions and lacks enforcement teeth.

But whatever bill ultimately clears the House — if any — will likely be broadly unpopular among voters, Lucas said.

“This is going to raise emotions in a lot of people, and I can almost guarantee that pretty much everybody is going to be upset with wherever we land,” Lucas said. “Many will say we didn’t go far enough, and many will say that we went too far.”

Lucas said he would be supportive of expanding access to prenatal care, counseling and medical care for expecting mothers but was hesitant to say he whether would support paid leave for new mothers, saying it “depends” because “you could be getting to a point where you’re making it easy to have children when you yourself aren’t prepared for them.”

However, Lucas said he would like to look into whether the state could provide free birth control to women and girls, though he acknowledged that many people who identify as pro-life would be against expanding access to birth control.

“Every county has a health clinic. …If we could work them and parents … and look at possibly providing free birth control because, let’s face it, Medicaid paid for almost half the births in the state of Indiana, and that is obviously an unsustainable course,” Lucas said. “We can’t have that level of Medicaid participation in births because that creates years of dependency, and eventually, you’re going to have people that are dependent on government outnumbering those that are providing the services. And it won’t take long for society to collapse once you hit that point. So, anything we can do to educate people and work with them and prevent unwanted pregnancies, I’m all for it.”

When asked what forms of birth control the state should provide at no cost — birth control pills, IUDs, among others — Lucas said, “To me, everything is on the table.”

Lauer said he is hopeful that the final bill will have “stronger protections for the unborn and for Hoosier mothers” with “compassion for both mothers and the baby.” Lauer also said that he wants to see continued improvement in the state’s infant and maternal mortality rates.

Indiana’s infant mortality and maternal mortality rates have been among the highest in the nation.

“We are consistently focused on improving the health and wellness of Hoosiers,” Lauer said. “…I want to ensure that women have the best health care.”

However, it is unclear whether the bill that the House ultimately comes up with will be able to garner enough votes to make out of the Senate and on to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Earlier this week, Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said it would be “extremely difficult” for the Senate to pass an abortion bill that is significantly different than the version this past week.

The bill passed the Senate with the minimum 26 votes needed to send it to the House. Walker voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceville, who also represents a portion of Bartholomew County, did not cast a vote because he had “out-of-state business,” according to a spokesperson.

On Monday, a House committee wasted little time proposing changes to the Senate bill, including adding “health of the mother” as an exception to the ban and adjusting the exemptions for rape and incest.

The House committee included an amendment that would change a provision in the Senate bill that would have allowed abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in girls younger than 16 and eight weeks for those older than 16.

The current language would allow women and girls who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest to get abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The committee also removed a provision that would have required women and girls who became pregnant due to rape or incest who want an abortion to sign notarized affidavits attesting to the reason for the abortion, as well as language that would have given the attorney general the power to criminally prosecute abortion crimes if county prosecutor decline to.

“Each and every legislator has a different goal as to which of these pieces were most critical to their support of the bill,” Walker said on Wednesday. “I will only say that this what I expected might happen. …And I think it will be a real challenge to get a bill passed in the end with these changes.”

“I don’t know that any one change over another is necessarily going to impact the bill negatively,” Walker added. “But I just feel like the more changes, the more risk is being introduced.”

Walker said that he would be “leaning to support” the bill with the House amendments should it make it to the Senate, though he said he had some “unanswered questions” about what the House is trying to accomplish with some of the amendments. Walker wouldn’t say which changes he was referring to.

“Some of them, I don’t even understand what the policy is behind them,” Walker said. “So, I’m making inquiries of those in the House to see if they can explain the thinking behind some of them.”