By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – When the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion, 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 10 years ago, in 2012, 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 somehow seemed to think a woman could avoid getting pregnant when 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, 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.”

Erin Murphy, Holcomb’s spokeswoman, said Holcomb has received the letter. “He is absolutely considering it while he awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Murphy said. Holcomb told the NWI Times’ Dan Carden on Monday that a special session following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is “to be determined,” adding, “I’m waiting to see what the court submits in their final decision.”

State Sens. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, and Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, released a joint statement criticizing the letter. “This special session would only put women in direct danger,” they said in the statement. “If we call a special session in the name of protecting women and children, it should be to pass laws that fund child care, support foster services, reinstate the child tax credit and support Hoosier women and children in real ways.”

According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization, Indiana is classified as a state “likely to ban abortion,” surrounded by several the institute has classified as “certain to ban abortion” (Indiana Citizen).

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and 17 other states have filed an amicus brief before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a controversial Texas abortion law that makes abortion illegal in that state after heartbeat activity is detected in an embryo (Indiana Lawyer). Indiana is leading the 18-state brief filed Monday, joined by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia. The states are requesting the 5th Circuit vacate the preliminary injunction against the Texas law known as Senate Bill 8, which virtually ended abortion in the nation’s second-largest state after six weeks of pregnancy.

“This case does not permit, much less require, the Court to address S.B. 8, but instead presents a question of considerable significance for federalism and the separation of powers – whether the U.S. Attorney General has inherent authority to challenge state laws as violative of individual constitutional rights even absent congressional authorization,” the amicus brief reads.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law on April 12 making it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as part of an aggressive push in Republican-led states across the country to scale back abortion rights.

Mississippi’s law prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, significantly earlier than Roe and later court decisions allow. The Mississippi law was immediately challenged and has not yet gone into effect. Indiana’s current law bans abortions after the first trimester. It is highly likely that the legislature will seek to further reduce this time limit with some legislators, like Republican Reps. Curt Nisly and John Jacob (both defeated in the May primary), seeking a complete ban. Indiana is likely to retain the “life of the mother” exception but we might see efforts to include exceptions in cases of rape or incest even as other states have eliminated or decided not to include these exceptions.

In 2020, 7,756 women had an abortion in Indiana, up from 7,637 one year prior, a total of 119 more abortions, or a 1.6% increase, following a 5% decline in 2019 (Carden, NWI Times). Records show there were 79,058 live births in Indiana in 2020, or more than 10 times the number of abortions. Hoosier women, coming from 90 of the state’s 92 counties, accounted for 7,372 abortions, or 95%. Residents of other states obtained 384 abortions at Indiana clinics and hospitals, primarily women from Kentucky. Women in their 20s procured 4,599 abortions, or 59.3% of the state’s total. Women in their 30s had 28.2% of Indiana’s abortions; those age 19 and younger, 9.2%; and age 40 and up, 3.3%. 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 men and controlled by Republicans. This issue could energize women, especially younger women who have grown up in an era of abortion restrictions but not to this degree. The issue might give Democrats an opportunity with Independent voters. 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.”

While the November mid-term election had been poised to be a pocketbook sequence (though the House Jan. 6 Committee will likely issue a report by next fall), the $64,000 question is whether the fight over abortion will change the dynamic. At this point, it is impossible to say what impact it will have.

National polling shows Americans are not ready for a full repeal. Last October, four pollsters asked specifically about the Roe v. Wade decision. While the precise framing of the questions differed, all found support for upholding the decision in the 60% range, with the share who wanted to see it overturned hovering around the 25% mark:

ν Quinnipiac: 66% of likely voters said they agreed with the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, with 27% saying they disagreed.

ν Kaiser Family Foundation: 69% of adults said they did not want to see the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision, with 27% saying they did want it overturned.

ν ABC News/Washington Post: 62% of registered voters said the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, with 24% saying the Supreme Court should overturn it.

ν Fox News: 61% of registered voters said the Supreme Court should let Roe v. Wade stand, with 28% saying the Supreme Court should overturn it.

ν A Ball State University Bowen Center Hoosier Poll published in 2019 found Hoosiers split: 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.

In the wake of the release of the Alito draft decision, early public opinion polling shows little evidence of a massive swing against Republicans based on the impending threat to Roe, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. A CNN survey taken in the immediate aftermath of the leak showed that Americans favored keeping Roe intact by roughly two to one, yet Republicans still enjoyed a 7% advantage over Democrats when voters were asked about their midterm preferences – a margin that would easily swing both chambers to the GOP.

Meet The Press Daily observed last week: “This is a draft opinion, so it’s possible (though unlikely) that a justice could switch his or her vote later this summer; we have no idea what other issues will dominate the rest of the year; and midterms are traditionally referendums on a sitting president, not on what happens at the U.S. Supreme Court. But here’s what we DO know, as we wrote back in December: If you get rid of Roe, every single state will need a position on fetus viability, weeks when you can/can’t have an abortion, parental notification, sonograms and possible exceptions (like on rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life). And every single primary and general election could be dominated by those specific positions – all in a nation where a majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and where even more say they support Roe v. Wade.”

Yahoo News reporter Tom LoBianco observed this week that “in the more than three decades former Vice President Mike Pence has been involved in politics, his opposition to abortion rights has been one of his bedrock principles. But in that time he’s avoided settling on precisely what he would do if given the reins of power. He hasn’t locked in a clear position in recent years. Exceptions for cases of rape and incest? He was for it in 2010 but hasn’t said where he is now. Bans from six weeks after conception or 15 weeks? Pence’s political advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom, filed an amicus brief supporting the Mississippi state ban after 15 weeks, but he hasn’t said if he would take it further if given the chance.”

Meanwhile, there is rampant speculation that not only will the Indiana General Assembly and other red state assemblages not stop at outlawing abortion, they will also target chemical abortion drugs, contraception and same-sex marriage.

Bloomberg Law reported: “Legislators pushing for a stricter anti-abortion law in Louisiana have lost the support of a major lobbying group because the bill would permit homicide charges against those who end pregnancies. The bill (H.B. 813) is inconsistent with the policies of Louisiana Right to Life because it “does not exempt women from criminalization,” the group said in a statement.

The bill’s sponsor, Louisiana State Rep. Danny McCormick (R), said, “Our plan is to move forward with this bill to give the unborn the same protections as the born. We knew it would upset the establishment.” McCormick’s office on Monday referred questions to the Texas-based Foundation to Abolish Abortion, which helped draft the bill. “Both the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions require equal protection under the law for all persons,” the group’s president, Bradley Pierce, said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “This bill simply acts consistently with the belief that a fetus is a person from conception. The mother and anyone else involved with an abortion would be entitled to all due process protections; the bill explicitly does not alter any existing presumption, defense, justification, immunity, or clemency that may apply to a case of homicide.”

While the Senate failed to codify Roe in a vote on Wednesday, coming up 10 votes short as Republicans and Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin blocked the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans might seek to codify anti-abortion laws nationally.

“Right now, it’s unknown territory for both sides,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a Post interview last week. “I don’t think it’s going to override inflation, crime, open borders, school frustrations and all the other things that seem to be driving the president’s numbers into the tank.”

In an interview with USA Today, McConnell added that a national abortion ban is “possible” if Roe v. Wade gets overturned this summer. “If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies – not only at the state level but at the federal level – certainly could legislate in that area,” McConnell told USA Today when asked if a national abortion ban is “worthy of debate.” “And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process. So yeah, it’s possible.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said on Sunday a national abortion ban floated by McConnell is “inconsistent with what we’ve been fighting for for decades, which is that we wanted the Roe v. Wade reversed and the authority to return to the states. And so as a matter of principle, that’s where it should be.”

But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday, “Senate Republicans will no longer be able to hide from the horror they’ve unleashed upon women in America. After spending years packing our courts with right-wing judges … the time has come for Republicans – this new MAGA Republican Party – to answer for their actions.”

Conservative commentator Will Saletin writing in The Bulwark observes: “State-by-state battles over abortion might go one way or the other, depending on tactics. But the war to shape majority opinion on this issue, if not to set national policy, will likely be decided at the strategic level, by a struggle to define what the debate is about. Is the debate about the decision itself – whether to end a pregnancy? Or is it about who makes that decision? Those two perspectives have squared off before. In 1989, when the Supreme Court began to roll back Roe, pro-choice strategists framed the issue with a catchy question: ‘Who decides?’ That question dominated the debate for years, and it likely will do so again, thanks to a paradox of public opinion: Most Americans don’t like abortion, but they also don’t like the government telling them what to do.”