The vast majority of protesters were abortion rights advocates, outnumbering a small group of anti-abortion protesters who held signs outside the state house.
The protesters are unlikely to change the course of the legislature, since Republicans control both houses with legislative supermajorities as well as the governor’s office.
State senators heard testimony from about 30 people on Monday, only about 10 percent of the 280 people who requested to speak.
Across the street, before the start of the session, Vice President Kamala Harris convened a roundtable of dozens of Democratic legislative and state leaders to condemn the Republican-imposed sweeping abortion ban. The proposed legislation in Indiana is not a so-called heartbeat bill, but a total ban with small exceptions.
“I am here to support these extraordinary and courageous leaders and, in particular, on this day when Indiana is the first state since the Dobbs decision to call a special session to propose legislation that … will essentially ban abortion for women,” Harris said. “When you understand how a woman’s body works, you will understand that the parameters that are on offer mean that for the vast majority of women, by the time they realize they are pregnant, they will effectively be prohibited from have access to reproductive health care that would allow her to choose what happens to her body.
Hoosier State has become an unexpected flashpoint in the national abortion debate in recent weeks, following a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed state lines from Ohio for an abortion in Indiana – and following comments by National Right to Life Committee General Indiana resident attorney Jim Bopp, who told POLITICO that this girl should have carried her pregnancy term.
But after state Senate Republicans unveiled their bill last week, Bopp’s group announced its opposition, saying it does not impose penalties on doctors who perform abortions.
“We have a bill that nobody exactly likes,” said Mike O’Brien, a Republican agent from Indiana and former legislative director to former Gov. Mitch Daniels. “So I think we’re on target.” He added: ‘This bill is quite a far cry from what they want and will support. But the majority of the public supports exceptions and no enforcement.
A month and a day since the Supreme Court ruled on the Dobbs decision that overturned the national right to abortion enshrined in deer in 1973, Indiana Republicans found themselves on a rocky road. On the one hand, they face the anti-abortion activists to whom they have sworn allegiance in the polls. On the other side, they face a national reaction – a familiar place for them. In 2015, under the government of the time. Mike Pence, the state found itself at the center of a national firestorm after Pence signed a so-called Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which led to some states declaring travel bans on the state as well as the NCAA and Nascar to issue statements criticizing the legislation.
Next week, Kansas voters are also expected to weigh in on abortion rights in a state ballot initiative. In Indiana, the debate is taking place in the state legislature where the issue currently monopolizes the agenda.
In the weeks leading up to the special session, Republican lawmakers largely kept quiet about their proposed legislation. Republican Senator Kyle Walker, who represents the town of Fishers in suburban Indianapolis, was the rare exception: Last week he called for a more modest change, shortening Indiana’s current law banning abortions after 20 weeks after fertilization at 12 to 15 weeks.
“With the reversal of Roe vs. Wadei believe we need to strike a balance for expectant mothers to make their own health decisions in the first trimester of pregnancy and also provide protections for an unborn baby as they progress towards viability outside of the womb, while making exceptions for rape, incest, maternal health and cases of fatal fetal abnormality,” Walker said in a statement.
After POLITICO reported Bopp’s comments, Walker’s wife, Republican consultant Jennifer Hallowell, expressed his outrage in a post on Twitter, writing that: “Some think your 10-year-old daughter or granddaughter should be forced to carry her rapist’s baby and become a mother. Not me. Bopp’s quote sounds like someone who never had to fear or suffer a man forcing himself on her,” she wrote.
In Indiana, the actions of the legislature in the coming days will have life and death consequences. Indiana Rankings 3rd in the country for maternal mortality. Indiana Senate Republicans have proposed funding $50 million in pregnancy services alongside their abortion ban.
The special session could last until August 14, but legislative leaders said they would wrap up their work within two weeks.
Democratic state Sen. Jean Breaux, who participated in the roundtable with Harris, claimed that Republican-backed legislation will lead to higher maternal mortality.
“A total ban on abortion, similar to that proposed by Republicans in Indiana, will lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths overall, and a 33% increase among black women,” Breaux said in a statement. “This does not include deaths resulting from attempted abortions in potentially unsafe, unlicensed facilities. Lack of access to abortion in a state with abysmal maternity care will kill women.