In Indiana, pro-choice is the political belief that dares not speak its name. Pro-life politicians proclaim their views on the issue at every opportunity. But few Democrats and no Republicans would run an Indiana political campaign proclaiming themselves in favor of preserving a woman’s constitutionally protected right to choose abortion.
Indeed, one could be forgiven for presuming that the rest of the state was solidly behind any legislative strategy to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortion – including barring a woman from terminating her pregnancy only if she gives a particular reason for doing it. But in fact Hoosiers, like Americans generally, have deep but divided and nuanced feelings on the subject of abortion.
Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, and the others who pushed Cox’s House Bill 1337 through the House as the legislative session ended last week no doubt believe in the rightness of their effort to make obtaining an abortion in Indiana more difficult. But if they believe that their personal moral and religious values are shared by all Hoosiers, they are wrong.
Silence is not always agreement. Though scientific polls specific to Indiana are rare, in a 2012 Bowen Center for Public Affairs poll, a majority of Hoosiers surveyed said they believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Only 15.4 percent of respondents said abortion should be illegal in all cases.
A 2015 Gallup Poll showed 50 percent of Americans surveyed identified themselves as pro-choice, while 44 percent described themselves as pro-life. Though the numbers move a little in one direction or the other, a roughly half-and-half split has been apparent in the Gallup polling since the late 1990s.
The Bowen Center’s Hoosier Survey, in fact, had stopped asking abortion questions after 2012 because attitudes on the issue seemed to have settled, said the center’s director, Joseph Losco. After this year’s legislation, Losco said, he expects that questions about abortion will be added to the annual survey when it is conducted this fall.
Cox, interviewed by phone Thursday afternoon, acknowledged the deep feelings on both sides of the abortion debate. To him, he said, the bill is an attempt to say "that Indiana is a place that values life, regardless of your gender or your race or whether you have a disability or not."
HB 1337 began as a relatively innocuous bill requiring that the remains of a miscarried or aborted fetus be buried or cremated. It was merged with a Senate bill that prohibits an abortion from being carried out if the woman says she is seeking it solely because of gender, race or a diagnosis of Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities. Yet a woman who gives no reason at all could still have a fetus aborted before 20 weeks.
Suggestions that any legislation requiring women to give birth to and raise children with severe genetic abnormalities should also provide help for those unable to bear the sometimes enormous costs that caring for those children might entail were brushed aside during the Senate debate. Cox said he is sympathetic to such discussions in the future, though he noted that there are many families and private institutions willing to help in such cases.
Through legislative legerdemain, House Speaker Brian Bosma and the largely male Republican supermajority were able to ignore their own procedures as they shoved the measure through to the governor before the session ended. The House’s micro-band of Democrats objected, of course.
But several normally pro-life Republican women objected to the bill or the way it was voted on without proper discussion, as well. Indeed, of the 22 women in the House, 17 voted against HB 1337. "I feel this is government overreaching," said Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, who said she would have wanted time to talk about the bill with her constituents.
We would urge Gov. Mike Pence to veto this hastily passed, constitutionally dubious and morally muddled bill on behalf of the people he represents – all Hoosiers, not just those who share his personal beliefs.