Indiana’s Republican-dominated Senate rejected a push by conservative lawmakers Thursday night to strip exceptions for rape and incest victims in a proposal that would ban most abortions in the state.
The Senate vote 28-18 against the amendment following a debate that was delayed for five hours as GOP senators met privately amid days of public division over how strictly such exceptions should be limited—and intense objections to those exceptions from anti-abortion activists.
Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis called for removing the rape and incest exceptions, a move that would have left the bill only allowing abortions deemed necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life.
“Exceptions equal death for unborn innocent children,” Young said.
The Indiana proposal followed the political firestorm over a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to the state from neighboring Ohio to end her pregnancy. The case of the Ohio girl gained wide attention when an Indianapolis doctor said the child had to go to Indiana because Ohio banned abortions at the first detectable “fetal heartbeat” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade.
Republican Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange, the abortion bill’s sponsor, urged senators to protect rape and incest victims who’ve been subjected to violence.
“Give them that choice,” Glick said. “Don’t foster that evil on them after the evil they’ve already suffered.”
Eighteen Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting to keep the rape and incest exceptions in the proposal. But the votes of many of the 18 Republicans who want to strip out those exceptions will be needed for the bill to advance from the Senate for consideration in the GOP-controlled House. That Senate vote could happen Friday.
The proposal would prohibit abortions from the time a fertilized egg implants in a uterus with the limited exceptions, including a requirement that a woman or girl seeking an abortion because of rape or incest to sign an affidavit attesting to the attack.
Indiana has one of the first Republican-run state legislatures to debate tighter abortion laws since the Supreme Court decision. Its debate comes as several states are also in the midst of court fights over whether tighter abortion restrictions can take effect.
The Indiana Republican disagreement over the abortion ban proposal contrasts with West Virginia, where the GOP-dominated House of Delegates voted Wednesday in favor of a sweeping abortion ban that includes exceptions for victims of rape and incest, as well as for medical emergencies.
A top legislative Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, voted against the measure during a committee meeting Tuesday, lamenting the “near impossibility of threading the perfect needle” on the issue during a short special legislative session that GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb originally called to address a tax rebate plan.
Holcomb has avoided saying whether he supported the proposed abortion ban and stayed out of public view during demonstrations Monday and Tuesday that drew thousands of competing anti-abortion and abortion-rights supporters to the Statehouse as a legislative hearing on the bill took place.
The bill cleared the committee on a 7-5 vote Tuesday with two Republicans saying they disliked the proposal as it stood and only voted to advance it in hopes of the full Senate making changes.
Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor said Wednesday it was clear Republicans had not reached an agreement on a bill to advance to the House for consideration.
“I think they’re having problems,” Taylor said. “I can’t speak to whether or not anything’s gonna pass.”
Glick, the abortion bill’s sponsor, said she was “not exactly” happy with the proposal after the committee adding provisions under which doctors could face felony criminal charges for performing an illegal abortion, along with limiting the time period allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest to eight weeks of pregnancy for women ages 16 or older and 12 weeks for those younger than 16.
Glick acknowledged this week that there was a chance Republicans wouldn’t be able to reach consensus before the special session’s Aug. 14 deadline to adjourn.
“If we can’t reach that result, there is a statute in Indiana we’ll live with until it will change in the future,” Glick said Monday. “If that decision can’t be made in a week or two weeks’ time, then we’ll come back in January and start again.”