Republicans in the Indiana Senate narrowly voted Saturday to ban nearly all abortion in the state in a rare weekend session, sending the bill to the House after a contentious week of arguments over whether to allow exceptions for rape and incest.
The vote puts Indiana on track to be one of the first states in the nation to pass new abortion restrictions after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that had protected women’s right to an abortion for 50 years. The measure led to protests by thousands of women who descended on the Statehouse this week and outrage among doctors and major medical associations.
A majority of Senate Republicans supported the controversial measure, despite concerns from some on the far right of the caucus that it doesn’t go far enough to restrict abortion and concerns by more moderate Republicans that a zero-week ban is too strict. They voted to pass the bill with the fewest number of yes votes needed, 26-20, with no support from Democrats.
Republicans who voted against the measure were split. Some, like Sens. Kyle Walker and Veneta Becker, said the bill was too restrictive. Others, like Indianapolis Sen. Michael Young, voting against the measure because it didn’t go far enough.
Sen. Jean Breaux, an Indianapolis Democrat, said the bill “feels very much like an attack on womanhood.”
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“In the history of Indiana, this will be a bad day,” Breaux said. “There are some in this chamber who rejoice about what we’re doing today. I, however, bow my head in shame and sorrow and pray that this regressive and cruel policy fails to become law in Indiana.”
While lawmakers debated the proposal for three hours, protesters just outside the chamber kept up a near-constant drumbeat of boos and chanting that occasionally drowned out senators at the microphone.
Di Harding, a 23-year-old Indianapolis resident, was among the group. Harding thought being there Saturday could make a difference.
“I think there was some small part in my brain this entire time that thought that there was a possibility that we could change some minds today,” they said, “There was a possibility that seeing the people, the faces of those they would discriminate against, would do something to them, maybe stir something in their hearts.”
After the vote, Harding was one of many protesters in tears.
“It wasn’t shocking,” they said, “but it was horrifying.”
As the votes were tallied, protesters inside and outside the chamber shouted “shame” as tensions grew. Young had to be escorted through the hallways as protesters shouted and chased after him.
Polling has shown that the majority of Hoosiers support some continued access to abortion. A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that nearly two-thirds of Hoosiers surveyed said they believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and only 7% said they think it should be illegal in all cases.
As passed, Senate Bill 1 bans all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Exceptions for rape and incest only apply within the first 12 weeks for girls age 15 or younger and the first eight weeks for pregnant girls and women age 16 or older.
Earlier in the week, 18 Republicans voted in favor of stripping exceptions for rape and incest − an effort that ultimately failed. The Senate debated amendments to the bill for five hours Thursday, stretching past midnight. They also shot down an effort supported by some moderate Republicans and Democrats to lengthen the number of weeks to legalize abortion to 20 in cases of rape and another change that would have thrown the entire question of abortion to voters in a referendum.
IndyStar reporter Lizzie Kane contributed to this story.
Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.