INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law late Friday a Republican-backed bill that will ban virtually all abortions in Indiana, making it the first state to enact abortion-restricting legislation since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The ban takes effect on Sept. 15, at which point Indiana will have one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.
Senators accepted the House-amended version of the bill in a 28-19 concurrence vote late Friday evening after more than three hours of debate.
The vote marked the close of a special legislative session that saw nearly two weeks of long days and heated debate in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Holcomb, a Republican, signed the bill into law less than an hour after the General Assembly recessed.
“Following the overturning of Roe, I stated clearly that I would be willing to support legislation that made progress in protecting life. In my view, SEA 1 accomplishes this goal following its passage in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly with a solid majority of support,” Holcomb said in a statement.
“These actions followed long days of hearings filled with sobering and personal testimony from citizens and elected representatives on this emotional and complex topic,” he continued. “Ultimately, those voices shaped and informed the final contents of the legislation and its carefully negotiated exceptions to address some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”
In a statement following the vote, Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter encouraged Holcomb to sign the bill, even though the group lobbied for a stricter ban.
“Although we cannot fully endorse the amended SB 1 due to its rape, incest, and lethal fetal anomaly exceptions, we do acknowledge the path forward is to either embrace the potential to end the vast majority of abortions in Indiana now, or to allow all abortions to continue under current law, making Indiana an abortion-destination state and driving abortion numbers even higher,” Fichter said in a statement.
Katie Blair, advocacy and public policy director at the ACLU of Indiana, meanwhile called the bill’s passage “a dark day in the state of Indiana.”
“The General Assembly has passed a ban on abortion, turning back the clock 50 years on Hoosiers’ fundamental right to control their own bodies,” Blair said in a statement. “SB 1 will force women to either travel hundreds of miles or carry pregnancies against their will, resulting in life-altering consequences and serious health risks. This is an unconscionable attack on our freedom.
Senators gave the bill the green light after barely advancing the measure in an earlier chamber vote last week.
Ten GOP senators voted against the initial Senate bill, saying the House should bring it closer to an all-out ban. Instead, the House removed some language the Senate had inserted and expanded some of the exceptions allowing abortions.
Three voted in favor of the weaker version of the bill Friday despite previously voting down the stricter ban. Two changed their earlier votes from a yes to a no.
That included Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, who talked about his 21-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome. He pointed to a pitfall in the bill’s exceptions, which he said leave out people who are disabled or under guardianship.
“If she lost her favorite stuffed animal, she would be inconsolable … imagine carrying her child to term,” he said through tears before stopping short and excusing himself from the chamber.
Earlier, lawmakers in the House spent more than four hours on Friday debating the abortion bill before voting 62-38 to send it back to the Senate chamber.
Democratic Rep. Chris Campbell, of West Lafayette, said the proposed ban is “an instrument of pain and trauma.”
“The rights of Hoosiers are being ripped away with this ban,” she said. “Women will be forced to give birth.”
Rep. Ann Vermillion, R-Marion, one of nine members of the GOP caucus to join Democrats in voting against the bill, said a fetus’s life should be protected once they reach viability, but that women should have a choice in the early stages of pregnancy.
She cited too few exceptions for rape and incest, and expressed concern that Indiana will lose doctors because of the abortion ban takes effect.
“I believe no government should take away a woman’s right to safe medical care during an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy,” said Vermillion, a former hospital administrator who now runs a healthcare consulting business. “I think that the Lord’s promise is for grace and kindness. I don’t believe the Lord has a priority list on life.”
The House also rejected, largely on party lines, a Democratic proposal to place a non-binding question on the statewide November election ballot: “Shall abortion remain legal in Indiana?”
The proposal came after Kansas voters resoundingly rejected a measure that would have allowed the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten abortion in the first test of voters’ feelings about the issue since Roe was overturned.
Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston told reporters that if residents are unhappy, they can vote for new lawmakers.
“Ultimately it’s up to the Senate,” he said. “Voters have an opportunity to vote, and if they’re displeased, they’ll have an opportunity both in November and in future years.”
Although the Senate narrowly voted in favor of a notarized affidavit to be required victims of rape or incest to access an abortion, a House committee eliminated that requirement. They also scrapped a provision in the bill that would allow the state attorney general to take over prosecution of abortion-related cases if a local prosecutor refuses to.
“This bill reflects an understanding that is one the most difficult and challenging issues of our lifetime. This bill restores faith in humanity, and faith that human life has value,” bill sponsor Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said Friday. “I think we’ve landed in a great place and good policy for the state of Indiana.”
Under the law, surgical abortions can only be done in hospitals or standalone ambulatory surgical centers owned by a hospital. Several Democrats noted access will be a problem even if a woman meets an exception.
Existing Indiana law makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an illegal abortion, and under the newly-enacted legislation, most abortions will be illegal. There are no criminal penalties for women who seek abortions.
The final language of the ban states explicitly that it does not apply to in vitro fertilization, miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. The ban also will not limit access to the “morning after” pill or any forms of contraception.
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