INDIANAPOLIS — When the Indiana General Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday for "Technical Corrections Day" it will almost certainly override Gov. Eric Holcomb's veto of HEA1041, the transgender sports bill. But the subplot will be the looming U.S. Supreme Court decision of the Dobbs case, which is expected to repeal Roe v. Wade.
The U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion, Republican Lt. Gov. Robert Orr had been a contributor to Planned Parenthood. When a young Republican named Mike Pence first ran for Congress in 1988, the abortion issue wasn’t a campaign hallmark.
As the nation grappled with the fallout of Roe, it was Northeastern Catholics who mounted the initial vanguard against legalized abortion. After the 1994 Republican Revolution, the pro-life bulwark shifted to the South and Midwest, helping to create the red center of the nation, while the coasts (along with Illinois and Colorado) became blue.
In the 1990s in the Indiana General Assembly, Republican House Speaker Paul Mannweiler and Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton were pro-choice, while Democrat House Speaker John Gregg was pro-life.
Elaine Godfrey noted in The Atlantic: “President Ronald Reagan detested abortion but endorsed exceptions for rape in the 1980s; George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump all also indicated their support for the measures. The National Right to Life Committee supported legislation that included exceptions in the 1990s. Even the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions, has long contained these exceptions.”
Just ten years ago, two Republican Senate candidates, Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Aiken of Missouri, lost their contests following remarks about rape and abortion. Mourdock called rape during his final Senate debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly a “horrible situation” but “something that God intended to happen.” Aiken lost after he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Donnelly would go on to win the 2012 Senate seat by surging to a 7% plurality.
Indiana – like Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky and other states – now seems poised to pass a law to further restrict abortion. In a letter to Gov. Holcomb, Indiana Republicans called for a special session following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the challenged Mississippi law. This ruling is expected in late June or early July. “As a state that recognizes that life is a precious gift that should never be neglected, it is our desire that you, as the governor of Indiana, ensure that those values are upheld without delay,” the letter stated. “We have a responsibility to Hoosiers to ensure that our state laws are aligned with the Supreme Court’s decision if Roe v. Wade is wholly, or partially, overturned.”
Holcomb said a special session is “to be determined” and he is awaiting “specifics” of a final Supreme Court decision.
How far will super majority Republicans go? Will they ditch the carve outs that would allow abortion in the case of rape, incest or the endangerment of the life of the mother?
Here’s a clue: In an op-ed published in the Richmond Palladium-Item, State Sen. Jeff Raatz said he will support "any" bill that restricts abortion. "It is premature to say what legislation would look like, given no final ruling has been made, but the General Assembly will continue to watch this issue closely and be ready to act if given the chance," said Raatz, who chairs the Senate Education & Career Development. "I know I will wholeheartedly support any step the General Assembly takes to protect the lives of the unborn."
According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization, Indiana is classified as a state “likely to ban abortion.” Indiana Department of Health statistics reported in the NWI Times, in 2020 there were 7,756 women who had an abortion in Indiana, following a 5% decline in 2019. Altogether, 5.7 per every 1,000 Hoosier women between ages 15 and 44 had an abortion in 2020, up from 5.5 per 1,000 Indiana women of childbearing age in 2019.
These new abortion laws are being advanced by state legislatures that are overwhelmingly male and Republican. This issue could energize women, especially younger women, who have grown up in an era of abortion restrictions but not to this degree where they will see a “right” disappear. We might not see impacts in the 2022 election but it could be a mobilizing issue in 2024 and, like the Senate races in 2012, the impact might be felt first in statewide elections.
The operative words in that last paragraph are “could” and “might.”
Last October, four pollsters for Quinnipiac, Kaiser Family Foundation, ABC/Washington Post and Fox News asked specifically about the Roe v. Wade decision. All found support for Roe in the 60% range, with 25% backing repeal. The Hoosier Poll published in 2019 found: 19% of Hoosiers expressing support for legal abortion in all cases compared to 17% who think it should be illegal in all cases. Another 29% of Hoosiers said abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 28% who said it should be illegal in most cases.
What are the potential political impacts? Stay tuned.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.