Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) is mulling a sweeping abortion bill that among other provisions would bar the procedure in cases where it is sought because of a diagnosis of a fetal disability such as Down syndrome.
The bill, which was passed by the legislature last week, would make Indiana the second state in the nation after North Dakota to ban abortion in those cases, as well as instances where the decision is based on the sex or race of the fetus. The measure also could make Indiana the first state in the country to require that all fetal remains be buried or cremated.
Pence, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign, is expected to sign the bill when it reaches his desk, in part because he is relying on strong turnout from social conservatives to hold on to his seat. He is staunchly opposed to abortion; while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Pence championed efforts to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health-care and abortion provider.
Pence earned the ire of his state’s business community last spring after signing a religious liberties bill that was viewed by critics as anti-gay and a stain on the state’s welcoming reputation. His detractors got fresh fodder later in the year when he pledged to block the placement of Syrian refugees in his state — an effort that was rejected by the courts.
In addition, among those who opposed the abortion bill were several Republican women in the Indiana House, who objected, among other things, to the section on fetal anomalies.
In a floor speech before the bill’s passage, Rep. Cindy Ziemke, who represents an area southeast of Indianapolis, said she was against abortion but could not support that provision because it failed to show compassion to “grieving parents who must face a decision that is heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s a sad day for me to have to vote no on a pro-life bill.”
Other women in the chamber spoke out forcefully in favor of the measure.
“In this room right here, we make laws to protect children from abuse and neglect. We make laws to protect women who have been raped,” said Rep. Rhonda Rhoads (R), whose district lies in southern Indiana. “Can we not also make a law to protect the unborn?”
The bill passed comfortably in both the House and Senate, which both have Republican supermajorities.
Paul Helmke, a former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne who is a professor at Indiana University, predicted Pence will sign the bill — not only because of his history supporting antiabortion legislation, but because he will need the vote of social conservatives if his support is soft among suburban women and business leaders. Moreover, he could suffer as a result of the brutal Republican presidential nominating process that is unfolding.
“By signing the bill, he’s going to show that he’s consistent, that he’s not going to change on the abortion issue at all and that he’s pushed something a little further than what other states have done,” said Helmke, who also served previously as president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.
The bill has sent representatives of abortion clinics scrambling to discern its far-reaching implications.
The fetal anomaly provision is particularly troublesome, said Patti Stauffer, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. It prohibits a provider from knowingly performing an abortion sought because of “a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability,” according to the bill digest.
Clinics would need to ask women why they want an abortion. It is unclear, Stauffer said, whether the woman would be compelled to provide an answer. The bill digest says doctors could face “disciplinary sanctions and civil liability for wrongful death” if they knowingly abort a fetus because of the diagnosis of a fetal disability.
Supporters of the fetal disability provision say it is critical to prevent discriminatory selective abortions, especially in light of new tests that can tell with a high degree of certainty if a fetus is at risk of developing Down syndrome or another disorder.
Planned Parenthood staff also are trying to understand the implications of the provision on fetal remains, Stauffer said. It could be difficult and costly to develop relationships with funeral homes to dispose of tissue left over from abortions.
Supporters of this provision say it is necessary to ensure that fetal remains are disposed of in a dignified manner.
Stauffer also noted that the bill requires women to undergo an ultrasound 18 hours before having an abortion — a provision that supporters say would help women make an informed decision but that Stauffer says simply adds to the burden on women seeking the procedure.
“It’s just more hoops to jump through, more appointments, all of which add up for women who have to work jobs or have less resources available to them,” Stauffer said. “While [lawmakers] don’t come out directly and ban abortion, [that is] the cumulative effect of all these restrictions for some women.”