Indiana Right to Life on Wednesday endorsed Republican state Rep. Ben Smaltz, who has been under attack from another socially conservative group for helping block legislation that would outlaw all abortions in Indiana.
Smaltz “has compiled a 100 percent pro-life voting record supporting some of the most leading-edge pro-life legislation in the entire nation,” Mike Fichter, head of Indiana Right to Life and its political action committee, said during a news conference at Allen County Republican Headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne.
Smaltz, R-Auburn, is being challenged in the GOP primary election in House District 52 by political novice and anti-abortion candidate William Carlin of Garrett. The district includes DeKalb, northwest Allen and southeast Steuben counties.
Carlin's candidacy is widely regarded as an effort by the organization Hoosiers for Life to unseat Smaltz, who, as chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, has stopped “protection at conception” bills that would have criminalized all abortions.
Hoosiers for Life has frequently criticized Smaltz since at least early 2017. In February, the group described him as “a wolf in sheep's clothing, pretending to be 'pro-life.'” On Wednesday, it said in an email that “Smaltz is Planned Parenthood's hero” – a reference to the women's health organization that provides abortions at some of its clinics.
Smaltz's supporters said his commitment to opposing abortion rights could not be questioned.
“Because of the legislation that Ben Smaltz has supported over the years, the number of children killed by abortion in Indiana has dropped for eight straight years,” Fichter said.
Cathie Humbarger, a leader in local and state Right to Life chapters, said, “Rep. Smaltz's strategy lines up with what we are attempting to do to reduce the market for abortions, to reduce the profitability of abortion providers and also to make abortion unthinkable in the minds of every woman who finds herself in a difficult situation in a pregnancy.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, a former state senator from Columbia City, said Smaltz “single-handedly, in so many ways, is one of the reasons that Indiana has become one of the most pro-life states in the entire country.”
Smaltz said he has gone from “one of the foot soldiers” for legislation limiting abortion when he took office in late 2012 to a position of “coaching and helping” bill sponsors to “get the votes we needed to get these restrictions and regulations in place that save lives.”
The speakers at the news conference said little when asked about the tactics of Hoosiers for Life and the split over Smaltz.
“We understand that there are different strategies and tactics that different groups employ and advocate for,” Fichter said. “We remain consistent to our strategy. We are reducing abortions in Indiana, and we will continue to do that until we reach zero.”
Humbarger said “there is a difference of strategy between the two candidates” in the GOP primary election in House District 52. She said she “can't speak to the tactics” of Hoosiers for Life.
Fichter said he did not know whether the Indiana Right to Life PAC will make a financial contribution to Smaltz's campaign. Yard signs that Humbarger brought to the news conference stated: “Indiana Right to Life Supports Ben Smaltz.”
Allen County Right to Life PAC announced Wednesday it has endorsed Smaltz and Banks as well as Republican state Sens. Dennis Kruze of Auburn and Liz Brown of Fort Wayne; state Reps. Dan Leonard of Huntington, Matthew Lehman of Berne, Martin Carbaugh of Fort Wayne and Dave Heine of New Haven, and Noble County Commissioner David Abbott, a Republican who seeks the House seat vacated by Republican David Ober of Albion.