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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 09, 2016 10:03 pm

Abortion-limits bill on to Pence

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Female legislators dominated an emotional discussion on new Indiana abortion restrictions Wednesday but couldn’t stop the male-dominated body from voting 60-40 in favor of the controversial bill.

Women in Indiana would not be allowed to get an abortion if her motivation is solely because of the fetus’ race, sex or disability, under the measure.

It is aimed directly at people terminating pregnancies after a diagnosis of Down syndrome or other significant disabilities.

"I implore you to have the courage to say no," said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon. "(Political) mailers will probably be sent out against you – not from your foes but from your friends."

She and 16 other women voted no along with 23 men.

Five women joined 55 men in supporting House Bill 1337, which now goes to pro-life Gov. Mike Pence.

It has been pushed by three local lawmakers – Fort Wayne Republican Rep. Casey Cox; Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, and Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle.

One criticism of the bill is that a woman can continue to abort a perfectly healthy fetus before 20 weeks without giving any reason at all. But she cannot do so if her motivation is related to disabilities, race or sex.

"I’m not sure that the way this is written right now, it would reduce any abortions," said Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville. "I fear this bill would compel women not to be completely open and honest with their doctors."

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, was one of only three men to speak on the bill. Twelve women came to the microphone. 

"We need to quit pretending that we know what’s best for women and their health care needs," he said.

He and others decried the process used to move the bill. The House chose not to hear the separate bill and so the Senate put the language into HB 1337.

Because of the procedural maneuver, the bill didn’t have a committee hearing or full debate in the House. Several pro-life Republicans pointed to that as the reason to oppose the legislation.

In the Senate, the bill led to uncomfortable conversations in committee and on the floor about the economic effects of forcing parents to keep a severely disabled child.

A doctor could face disciplinary action or civil suit for performing an abortion knowing the procedure was solely due to disability or sex selection. There are no consequences for the woman. 

Cox said in this conflict of rights, he will err on the side of life and try to give the most vulnerable a chance at life. 

He said he is a father of three, including a girl due in three weeks. 

"Ours is a policy that values life no matter who you are, where you come from or what your disability might be," Cox said.

Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter called the legislation historic and looks forward to Pence signing it into law.

"We are truly thankful for the passage of this historic legislation by the Indiana House and applaud the new civil rights protections this bill creates for unborn children, as well as the new provisions this bill establishes for the humane final disposition of aborted babies," he said.

GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma voted in support even though he often doesn’t vote on bills. He said he is strongly pro-life and "we’re not making a determination about women’s health. We’re trying to protect the rights of the unborn."

He also said he is unsure if the bill is constitutional.

"It’s not been ruled upon by a judge, and I would not be surprised if this did not lead to a judge’s decision in that regard," Bosma said.

Restrictions prior to a fetus’ viability have been struck down by courts before but none were specific to disabilities. Only one other state, North Dakota, has that language in law.

The bill also requires all miscarried or aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. It is in reaction to a national controversy over how Planned Parenthood handled remains.

The only local lawmaker to oppose the bill was Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

nkelly@jg.net