Indiana poised to limit abortion access after Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade

Kaitlin Lange Shari Rudavsky
Indianapolis Star

Indiana lawmakers are poised to restrict abortion access in the state following today's U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade abortion access protections.

The only questions appear to be whether they will allow for exceptions for rape, incest or health of the pregnant person. 

The majority of Republican legislators penned a letter to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb ahead of the ruling, asking for him to call a special session if Roe v. Wade was overturned instead of waiting until January. 

Under state law, only the governor can call a special session. Holcomb earlier this month called a special session to return state money to Hoosiers amid high inflation. The session is scheduled to start July 6. 

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On Friday Holcomb, who has a history of supporting various anti-abortion legislation, issued a statement saying he expected legislators also will discuss abortion during that session.

"The Supreme Court’s decision is clear, and it is now up to the states to address this important issue. We’ll do that in short order in Indiana," the statement read. "I have been clear in stating I am pro-life. We have an opportunity to make progress in protecting the sanctity of life, and that’s exactly what we will do."

That means abortions in Indiana could be significantly restricted within weeks.

Leading state lawmakers made it clear Friday they expect to act in the upcoming session now that the Dobbs decision has opened the door for states to do so.

Abortion rights in Indiana:What the Roe v. Wade decision means

"With the final decision in hand, we can begin to formulate a policy that is right for Indiana that protects unborn children and cares for the health and lives of mothers and their babies," said Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville in a statement Friday.

However neither he nor House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, provided an indication of exactly what any proposed legislation might look like.

Saying it was too early to speculate on specifics of such legislation, Huston said in a statement Friday that whatever the legislature passes, the state will keep in mind accompanying measures to support pregnant mothers and their babies.

“Today's decision rightfully returns the question of abortion back to the people and the states, and we're excited to build on Indiana's already strong pro-life track record," he said. "I strongly believe we'll couple any action with expanding resources and services to support pregnant mothers, and care for their babies before and after birth.

Republican lawmakers, who will drive any bill-drafting process due to their supermajority, have been reluctant to provide specifics on what abortion restricting legislation would look like.

Indiana abortion laws:Abortion is still legal in Indiana — for now. Here's what is and isn't allowed.

IndyStar sent a survey to all 150 lawmakers asking if they would support exemptions for rape, incest or for the health of the pregnant person, and at what point in the pregnancy, if any, they'd like to prohibit abortion. The survey also contained questions on whether abortion should be criminalized.

Out of the 110 Republican lawmakers, only one responded to the survey, Indianapolis Rep. John Jacob, a lawmaker who's pushed for a ban on all abortions regardless of the circumstances. It's unclear how many other lawmakers have similar views. 

What is less clear is where public opinion in the state stands on the highly controversial topic. In a nod to the divisiveness of the issue, Bray said in his statement that legislators will strive to listen to multiple voices before acting.

"We certainly realize this is an extremely contentious and potentially polarizing issue," he said.  We will proceed with this conversation in a civil and substantive way so that all sides have the opportunity to be heard as we chart a course for Hoosiers."

Huston said he expected the General Assembly to hear a range of opinions and go through the full legislative process, including committee hearings and public testimony.

The Mississippi law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in today's ruling, could at least provide a glimpse into what Indiana lawmakers will pursue. That law bans most abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”

Meanwhile before the Supreme Court ruling, Texas had already banned abortions after six weeks, aside from medical emergencies.

Other states had various trigger laws on the books, which would restrict abortions as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned. Most of those abortion bans only allow for medical exemptions, though some states such as Utah also allow for exceptions for rape or incest. 

Indiana did not have a trigger law in place which means as of now, abortions can still be performed within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, or 22 weeks after the end of the menstrual cycle. There are currently seven abortion clinics in Indiana in Merrillville, Lafayette, Bloomington, George Town, Indianapolis and South Bend, and five hospitals that occasionally perform abortions in Indianapolis and Evansville.

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Over the years, Indiana lawmakers have slowly chipped away at abortion access. They'd avoided banning abortion outright to avoid paying for a costly Supreme Court battle that, until this point, seemed likely to fail. 

Some of their bills still have generated lawsuits, such as a 2021 bill requiring doctors to tell women about a disputed treatment for potentially stopping drug-induced abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Indiana has enacted 55 abortions restrictions and bans in the last decade.

In 2020, there were 7,756 abortions in Indiana, the majority of which were performed on Indiana residents.