When Indiana punches above its weight class or fixes government missteps, it’s usually because the state’s most influential corporate citizens have helped lead the way.
In the 1960s, J. Irwin Miller, the longtime CEO at diesel engine maker Cummins, was one of the strongest corporate and religious supporters of the civil rights movement.
In 2015, major employers across the state revolted against the state’s misguided Religious Freedom Restoration Act and secured a change that specified the law did not authorize discrimination against LGBT customers, employees and tenants.
Earlier this year, Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks boldly called on the state to improve its education system and reduce health care costs if it wanted to remain economically competitive in bids to attract new jobs and corporate investment.
This history of corporate leadership is what makes it so confounding to understand why Lilly and Cummins didn’t step more squarely into Indiana’s recent debate on abortion rights until after the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Eric Holcomb had already enacted a near-total abortion ban.
While both companies likely were making their opposition known behind the scenes (Cummins acknowledged as much), they waited until after the law was passed to publicly issue statements.
Just hours after Holcomb signed Senate Bill 1 into law, both companies issued statements saying the measure would limit the ability to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce in Indiana. Both said the new law also would cause them to look to other states for growth opportunities, with Lilly being a bit more insistent on that front.
“Given this new law, we will be forced to plan for more employment growth outside our home state,” Lilly said.
Many smaller entities expressed similar concerns before the Legislature took final action. Several hundred companies signed a petition circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union opposing the abortion ban.
But without Indiana’s corporate behemoths publicly joining the fight, the opposition didn’t hold much sway with GOP lawmakers set on passing new abortion restrictions in a hurried two-week special session.
We’re not suggesting that public opposition from Indiana corporate giants would have stopped the GOP’s anti-abortion freight train, or that it should have been halted altogether.
But we do think a more organized, united and visible corporate front might have slowed the rush enough to allow for a thoughtful debate that more fully took into account the new law’s impact on women, health care providers and the state’s economic future.
Instead, Indiana ended up with a rushed law that seemed to please few, allowing narrow exceptions to the abortion ban for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly, and to protect the life or health of the mother.
Abortion-rights supporters said the restrictions went too far, while anti-abortion purists said it didn’t go far enough. And often lost in the debate were the law’s potential economic impacts on the state.
If Indiana’s largest corporate citizens truly believe the effects will be as severe as they’ve described, they need to loudly and publicly tell the Legislature to fix the law when lawmakers reconvene in January.•
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