By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
Following the Aug. 5 conclusion of a historic special session of the state legislature – after two weeks of emotional debate – the Catholic Church in Indiana hailed the strides made in protecting life and supporting mothers and families, and called for more work to be done.
During the special sesssion, Indiana became the first state in the nation to enact a new law extending legal protection to unborn babies in the wake of the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Dobbs decision overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had declared a constitutional right to an abortion, and returned the regulation of the procedure to the states.
The Indiana Statehouse was the epicenter of intense debate on all sides of the abortion issue beginning July 25, when lawmakers returned to Indianapolis for a special legislative session originally intended to focus solely on providing Hoosiers relief from soaring inflation. The two-week effort culminated in a marathon Aug. 5 session that resulted in the passage of groundbreaking legislation – including Senate Bill 1, a measure significantly limiting abortion – that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law that night.
“Following the overturning of Roe, I stated clearly that I would be willing to support legislation that made progress in protecting life,” Holcomb said. “In my view, Senate Enrolled Act 1 accomplishes this goal following its passage in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly with a solid majority of support. These actions followed long days of hearings filled with sobering and personal testimony from citizens and elected representatives on this emotional and complex topic. Ultimately, those voices shaped and informed the final contents of the legislation and its carefully negotiated exceptions to address some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”
The legislation, which takes effect Sept. 15, bans surgical and chemical abortions with some exceptions. Those include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (within 10 weeks of fertilization), and in cases of lethal fetal anomalies or to save the life of the mother (up to 20 weeks post-fertilization).
In addition, the measure terminates the licensure of all abortion centers, and requires abortions to be performed in hospitals or surgical centers owned by hospitals. Currently, nearly all abortions in Indiana take place in abortion centers.
Bishop Joseph M. Siegel of Evansville said, “I join my brother bishops in Indiana in commending Gov. Holcomb and the legislature for their efforts in enacting SEA 1. It is a significant step in defending the rights of the unborn and their mothers in our state. We will continue to work in the Diocese of Evansville and across Indiana to build a culture of life and to promote the God-given dignity of every human person from conception to natural death.”
Leaders of the Indiana Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops and serves as the public-policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana, testified during the special session. While praising lawmakers for their “difficult work,” the ICC called for additional clarification on certain aspects of the legislation – including stronger definitions for the exceptions.
“We support the general prohibition of abortion and the exception for the life of the mother because there are two human persons involved – each with a distinct right to life,” said Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC, during testimony before a House committee.
The two-week special session, which garnered national media attention, was marked by regular protests outside and inside the Statehouse, with shouts from activists often reaching inside the chambers.
“The atmosphere was tense but mostly respectful,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC. “Both sides acknowledged that they felt much was at stake. I believe that most just wanted to be heard, even if they didn’t change any hearts or minds.
“From our standpoint, while this legislation doesn’t completely line up with Catholic social teaching, it does get us much closer to protecting more lives,” Espada added. “It was a difficult two weeks, and many people turned to prayer and searched their hearts regarding this matter. This was evident in the testimonies from the public and the statements of the legislators. I appreciate the honesty and civility of all those involved.”
Although not as contentious or emotionally charged, debate surrounding the other key objective of the special session – providing inflation relief for the people of Indiana – was also of keen interest to the ICC. Senate Bill 2, which was also signed into law on Aug. 5, includes a $200 tax refund to Hoosiers, along with $45 million to support pregnant women, postpartum mothers, babies and families.
Looking ahead to the regular legislative session that will begin in January, the ICC vows to redouble its efforts to promote a culture of life, and help mothers and children in need.
“Mothers and babies will need our support like never before,” Espada said. “As always, the Catholic Church will be at the forefront of those endeavors.”
For more information and ways to get involved with the ICC and its mission, visit www.indianacc.org.