With Roe Gone, Republicans argue how far to push abortion bans

INDIANAPOLIS — Abortion opponents, particularly in conservative states, had hoped to quickly pass a new wave of restrictions after Roe v. Wade. But so far, most Republican lawmakers have acted cautiously or done nothing at all, even in state houses where they hold overwhelming majorities.

A debate unfolding in Indiana this week shows why.

Although Republican lawmakers support the general idea of ​​restricting abortion, they have differing views on how far to go. Do we need an outright ban? If so, should there be exceptions for rape and incest? And what if a woman’s health is threatened by pregnancy but doctors don’t believe she’s going to die?

“These are all really tough questions,” said State Sen. Rodric Bray, a Republican from Indiana whose caucus, which has long worked to limit abortions, has split over a bill that would ban abortion with a few exceptions. Before Roe was unseated this year, Mr. Bray said, lawmakers hadn’t “spent enough time on these issues, because you knew it was an issue that you didn’t really have to address at the level. granular. But we are there now, and we recognize that it is quite a difficult job.

Similar conversations are taking place across the country.

Unlike conservative states that have adopted trigger bans on abortion years ago, when it remained a federal law, Republicans weighing the issue today are not governing on assumptions. They face thorny questions about exceptions, nuanced disagreements within their own party and mixed public opinion during an election season in which abortion has become a defining issue. High-profile recent cases, like that of a 10-year-old sexual assault victim from Ohio who traveled to Indiana to have an abortion because of the new restrictions imposed in her country of origin, highlighted the stakes of the debate.

The leaders of many Republican-led states seem to be biding their time. One exception was West Virginia, where lawmakers advanced a near-total ban this week after a court blocked enforcement of an 1849 abortion ban in that state.

But in Nebraska, where an effort to narrowly pass a trigger ban lack earlier this year, Governor Pete Ricketts discussed the possibility of a special session but has yet to call one. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has largely avoided questions whether he would take immediate action to enact new restrictions. In South Dakota, where a ban went into effect after Roe’s cancellation, Gov. Kristi Noem backed away from her initial promise to call lawmakers on Capitol Hill to consider more abortion bills. And in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she was working to get the courts to allow enforcement of existing restrictions that had been blocked.

“At this time, there would be no point in calling a special session,” said Ms. Reynolds, a Republican, told local reporters last month.

In Indiana, at least in theory, passing an abortion ban should have been simple. Lawmakers there have approved sweeping abortion restrictions in recent years. Republicans hold large majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. And Governor Eric Holcomb, a Republican who was once Mike Pence’s lieutenant governor, said the day Roe fell that he wanted lawmakers to consider new limits.

“We have an opportunity to make progress in protecting the sanctity of life,” Mr. Holcomb said then, “and that is exactly what we will do.”

But in practice, getting Republicans to agree on a bill has been filled with dissent. The extraordinary session, originally scheduled for early July, only started meeting this week. Even before they met, some Republican lawmakers expressed disagreement with their party’s approach. And when some Republicans introduced legislation calling for a ban on abortion with limited exceptions, it managed to disappoint almost everyone, not just the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, who called it a “cruel and dangerous invoice” but also Indiana Right to Life, which describes him as “weak and disturbing.”

“This particular piece of legislation, probably the best analogy I can say, is Swiss cheese — there are so many holes in it,” said Jodi Smith, who spoke on behalf of Indiana Right to Life, and noted during his testimony before lawmakers this week that several Senate Republicans had sought the group’s endorsement.

The current version of the bill, which could still be amended, would ban abortions except when a pregnant woman’s life is found to be in danger or when a woman signs an affidavit early in her pregnancy saying that she was the victim of rape or incest.

During two days of public testimony, no one expressed support for the bill. When it came to a Senate committee vote on Tuesday, it narrowly advanced, with one Republican and all Democrats voting against, and several Republicans who voted for expressing serious concerns.

Senator Ed Charbonneau, who was among the yes votes, said: “I guess my wish is that we make a bad bill less bad. Senator Eric Bassler, who also voted to push the legislation forward, said “There are many reasons not to support this bill at different levels” and warned he could vote against it in the full Senate. Even Senator Sue Glick, the bill’s sponsor, said she was “not exactly” happy with the measure as it was introduced in the Senate, where a vote is possible on Friday.

“If it’s the body’s will to kill Bill on the floor, then so be it, but it’s a start,” Ms Glick said.

The main lines of the abortion debate remain well defined. At the Indiana Statehouse, large groups of protesters on both sides of the issue have gathered this week. Loud, competing chants of “We won’t stop at Roe” and “My body, my choice” echoed through the halls of the building at various locations, making it difficult at times to hear testimony in court.

But even in a state where Democrats have little political power, Republican leaders in Indiana find themselves in a political bind. Some Republican lawmakers and many of the party’s most vocal supporters want to ban abortion with few or no exceptions. But a Republican senator, Kyle Walker, said he wanted abortion to remain legal during the first trimester of pregnancy. And many party members have raised questions about whether and how to include exceptions for rape, incest and the health of a pregnant woman.

“This is one of the most complex problems that any of us will try to solve in our lifetime, and it just demonstrates the near impossibility of threading the perfect needle” in a short session, said State Senator Mark Messmer, the Republican who voted against. the measure in committee.

Complicating matters at a time when many lawmakers are campaigning for re-election is uncertainty over what voters think about abortion. In Indiana, abortion opponents and abortion rights advocates both say public opinion favors their position, but at least a recent survey suggests a more complex and murky picture.

During marathon public comment sessions, several women told lawmakers to continue allowing access to abortion, sharing personal stories, and several doctors spoke out against the bill, warning that it would disastrous consequences for the women of Indiana. Abortion is currently legal in Indiana up to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“The abortion ban poses a threat to the health and well-being of Indiana’s youth,” pediatrician Dr. Mary Ott said in testimony. She added: “The proposed legislation politicizes what should be a private decision.

Some anti-abortion activists have spoken of a sense of betrayal that lawmakers who campaigned as abortion opponents were stopping short of a full ban. A man said: “Let’s not compromise”; another called the measure a “fraud disguised as a pro-life bill”; and a third said there was no excuse not to pass a more restrictive law because “there is a supermajority of supposedly pro-life Republican lawmakers here.”

Some have alluded to the electoral consequences of inaction.

“If the language of this bill is not changed, innocent children will die, the wrath of God will continue to be stored against this state, and the Republican Party will lose many of its God-fearing voters,” said Seth Leeman, the pastor of a Baptist church in Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis, told lawmakers.

Even amid the intrapartisan wrangling, it remains very possible that Indiana will enact a near-total abortion ban at its special session, which is expected to continue into next week.

Some Republicans elsewhere are also moving forward. In South Carolina, a special panel of lawmakers recently drafted a bill that would enact something close to a total ban on abortion in the state, though it could be months before that. it is submitted to a final vote.

But even in conservative states where the new restrictions don’t pass immediately, Republicans have time on their side.

In Indiana, if lawmakers fail to pass new restrictions in the coming weeks, they could try again in a new legislative session in 2023, some Republicans are already suggesting. Democrats take them at their word.

“I’m concerned that if the bill dies, the Hoosiers might think access to abortion care is safe — and I want people to know that no, it’s not safe,” the senator said. State Shelli Yoder, a Democrat from the college town of Bloomington. . “What they learned from that experience, they will come back in January and they won’t fail again.”

Richard Fausset contributed report.

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