By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – On the eve of Indiana’s new abortion restrictions going into law, Americans were treated to yet another split screen moment. On Tuesday, there was President Biden lauding the Inflation Reduction Act, while the CNBC ticker revealed yet another CPI increase driven by food prices and there was a subsequent massive selloff on Wall Street. That should have been the defining element of the day’s news cycle (other than the Queen’s body arriving at Buckingham Palace and the Russian rout in Ukraine).

Then came U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proverbial turd in the punch bowl, proposing to enact a nationwide ban at 15 weeks of pregnancy. This, after the last three U.S. Supreme Court nominees had vowed to respect precedent rulings. This, after the Supreme Court ruled on Roe, with Republicans far and wide vowing that the issue should be decided by state legislatures. “There’s a narrative forming in America that the Republican Party and the pro-life movement is on a run. No, no, no, no, no, no,” Graham said. “We welcome the debate. We welcome the vote in the United States Senate as to what America should look like in 2022.”

By the end of the day, it was the Graham bill that was dominating the U.S. political news.

“Bad idea,” GOP strategist Chris Mottola told NBC. “It rips open a political sore. The political environment was moving back to economic issues. It further nationalizes an issue that works against Republicans generically.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board was not impressed. “This is constitutionally dubious, and although Mr. Graham is right that Democratic abortion absolutists too often get a pass, he is taking a big political gamble. As a policy, 15 weeks of abortion on demand is about on par with the laws in Western Europe. That would continue to permit most of the abortions done in the U.S. In 2019, 92.7% were performed at 13 weeks or before, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

But former Vice President Mike Pence says he believes implementing a national abortion ban and continuing the conservative fight to restrict bodily autonomy for women “is profoundly more important than any short-term politics. We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”

Indiana Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Thomas McDermott Jr., who long predicted that the repeal of Roe would ignite a political reaction that could improve his long-shot challenge to U.S. Sen. Todd Young, tweeted, “A 15-week NATIONWIDE ABORTION BAN, one that trumps all 50 state laws on this just (is) a great example of why Indiana needs to fire Todd Young & protect women’s medical decisions.”

McDermott told HPI Wednesday morning that the Graham bill “is a wildly extreme proposal that doesn’t give a shred of respect to women or to state rights. However, Sen. Graham was nice enough to give America a preview of what kind of agenda the Senate GOP will implement if they regain control of that chamber in the November midterms. That is why Hoosiers must fight so hard to make sure that GOP control of the Senate doesn’t happen.”

HPI sought a comment from Sen. Young, but there was no response.

As for SEA1 becoming applicable today, Indiana Republican Party spokesman Luke Thomas told HPI, “When SEA1 and its companion bill SEA2 go into effect, Indiana will send a clear message that we respect life and value supporting and protecting the health of women and children. This November, Hoosiers and the rest of the country will be voting their pocketbooks, focusing on the issues of rising costs, a faltering national economy, and public safety issues caused by soft-on-crime Democrat prosecutors.”

The ACLU’s Ken Falk said today, “Every day that this ban on abortion is in effect, Hoosiers are unable to access critical health care. This ban immediately impacts the 1.3 million women and people of reproductive age across the state by stripping them of their right to access basic care – forcing Hoosiers to either flee their community to access an abortion, if they have the resources to do so, or to carry a pregnancy against their will and for some Hoosiers, against their religious beliefs. With multiple lawsuits pending in Indiana courts, we remain confident that the courts will see this law for what it is, a flagrant attack on the rights of Hoosiers. This fight is far from over. We’ll continue doing everything in our power to restore abortion access in Indiana as soon as possible.”

Democrat Heidi Beidinger, who is challenging Rep. Dale DeVon in a suburban district hugging the Michigan line, said, “We women know that we have the power to change the world if we work together. Indiana has taken away some of our freedoms. Let’s shift that anger into action and take back Indiana (starting with voting for me and other Dems for Statehouse!)”

Sen. Graham’s proposal for a federal abortion law reeks of cynicism, particularly coming from a 67-year-old childless bachelor. He certainly seems to understand that the GOP has a problem but he is ignoring the fact that his proposal has been rejected by Republican-led state legislatures, including Indiana. Also, he knows that even his own caucus won’t support it.

The Indiana legislature had its chance to adopt a law allowing for first trimester abortions but the Republican super majorities in both chambers rejected the idea.

In the Senate, Sen. Tim Lanane’s amendment to allow an abortion in the first 15 weeks failed by a vote of 13-33 with only three Republicans in favor.

In the House, Rep. Cindy Ziemke’s amendment to allow an abortion in the first 13 weeks failed by a vote of 34-65 with only six Republicans voting in favor.
 
Although the amendments failed, a surprising number of Republicans do not support exceptions for rape and incest. There were 18 Senate Republicans who voted to remove the exceptions and 39 House Republicans who voted the same way.
 
And Gov. Holcomb is clearly comfortable with the ban. He signed the bill into law within an hour of its passage.

While Indiana’s SEA1 took effect today, Owen County Judge Kelsey Hanlon will hear the ACLU’s lawsuit seeking to block the new abortion restrictions on Sept. 19. According to the AP, Indiana abortion clinic operators filed the lawsuit Aug. 31, saying the ban, which includes limited exceptions, “strips away the fundamental rights of people seeking abortion care” in violation of the Indiana Constitution.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, most Republicans stuck to a simple message: The decision merely sent the issue back to the states; it was not a prelude to any national ban on abortion. But as Politico Playbook observed, Graham “tossed all that out the window Tuesday, dropping a bill that would implement a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy while allowing states to pass more restrictive laws. The immediate effect was to put fellow Republicans, who had already been on their heels over Roe’s reversal, straight onto their butts.”

“At a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, Graham promoted his bill as good policy and good politics, noting that it would align U.S. abortion law with the rest of the industrialized world while giving GOP officeholders and candidates a proposal to rally around. Instead, the opposite happened. The GOP scattered in response, while Democrats all over the country began salivating. One told Playbook: ‘Graham’s stunt is a godsend and helps us remind voters Republicans want to ban abortion everywhere.’”

By the end of the day, controversial and weak Republican Senate nominees were embracing the Graham bill. Georgia’s Herschel Walker said, “I will always stand up for our unborn children. I believe the issue should be decided at the state level, but I WOULD support this policy.” Arizona nominee Blake Masters tweeted support, but Playbook observed: “His campaign spokesperson retweeted a bewildered reaction to the legislation before later deleting the RT.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R. W.Va., added, “I’m not sure what he’s thinking here. But I don’t think there will be a rallying around that concept.”

Democratic strategist and CEO of Target Smart Tom Bonier said the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade is galvanizing Americans to register to vote, and vote for Democrats. “The Kansas results were really a surprise, I think, even to people like me, who have studied these numbers for decades. And so we set out to figure out why. What we saw was a huge surge in women registering to vote after Dobbs when you compare to before,” Bonier said. Republicans “want to make this election about inflation. But these women are fired up. That’ll be the big question: Do they come out in November?”

Bonier said that Indiana has seen a 6% female gender gap in new voter registrations since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling on June 24. That type of surge was most pronounced in Kansas, which saw a 40% surge in the post-Dobbs gender gap, paving the way to a stunning 59-41% referendum that keeps abortion legal in a state Donald Trump won by 15% in 2020.

This emerging registration gender gap is taking place in other red states such as Idaho (18%), Wisconsin (17%), Louisiana (13%), Arkansas (12%), Ohio (10%) and Missouri (10%).

Hoosiers, facing an Oct. 11 deadline, don’t seem to be galvanized. According to Indiana Election Division data, there were 3,319 new registrations in April, 16,197 in May, 13,057 in June (the SCOTUS Dobbs decision was handed down on June 24), and just 10,837 in July.

In the lone competitive Indiana congressional seat (CD1), this issue split screen is now playing out on cable via TV ads. Republican nominee Jennifer-Ruth Green: “Lately, the American Dream has been only for the wealthy, and that’s why I’m running for Congress. Costs and crime are soaring, jobs are leaving, politicians are doing nothing and I’ve had enough.”

And U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan’s ad: “Republican Jennifer-Ruth Green would take away every woman’s choice, no matter the consequences. We 100% can’t send Jennifer-Ruth Green to Congress.”

But here’s a wild card for General Assembly races in Michiana and the Louisville media market: Both Michigan and Kentucky will be voting on abortion rights referendums on Nov. 8, with TV ads likely to bleed over into the South Bend/Elkhart, Cincinnati and Louisville media markets.

Bonier analyzed the stunning Kansas referendum where polling did not predict the 59-41% blowout keeping abortion available in a state as conservative as Indiana. Women accounted for 56% of all ballots cast in the primary election in Kansas. This 12% gender gap in vote share is bigger than any election I can find in Kansas. For reference, in the ‘20 general women comprised 53% of total turnout. In the last midterm primary in Kansas (2018), the gender gap in vote share was 5.5 points, meaning the gender gap more than doubled in this year’s election; 51% of ballots cast in KS on the constitutional amendment on abortion last month were cast by Republicans. Meaning that, even if every Dem and Independent voted against the measure, over 20% of Republicans voted for the pro-choice position.

Republicans are now getting an array of varying advice. “There’s no doubt that there are a lot of GOP consultants encouraging candidates to not talk about the issue,” Marc Short, who served as chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, told the New York Times. “It is the wrong approach.”

The NYT reported that the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America Candidate Fund has privately circulated new talking points to Senate candidates who oppose abortion, advising them to use a 15-week restriction to contrast themselves with Democrats. The memo argued that the position would allow “pro-life states to enact more aggressive limits,” while also setting a “baseline” in Democratic-controlled states like California, New York and Illinois.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres told the Wall Street Journal’s Jason L. Riley, “Republicans need to take a mainstream pro-life position. What that mainstream position is depends on the particular state. But what it is not is a ban on abortion in all circumstances without exception for rape, incest and the life of the mother. More than half of Americans know someone who has had an abortion or has had one themselves. So any politician talking about this issue needs to project a tone of tolerance to those with different views. They need to express compassion for women who are struggling with an unwanted pregnancy. Calling abortion ‘murder’ will never persuade anyone to join their side.”