By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
Promoting the dignity of life is at the heart of key legislation the Indiana Catholic Conference continues to track in the pivotal final days of the 2022 General Assembly.
As the public-policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana for more than a half century, the ICC supports or opposes proposed legislation at the Statehouse through the lens of the long, rich history of Catholic social teaching. A prime example is the ICC’s stance on one of the most controversial measures at the Statehouse this session: House Bill 1077, which would repeal the law requiring a license to carry a handgun in Indiana.
Following its passage in the House, the so-called “lawful carry” or “Constitutional carry” bill – which the ICC has opposed from the beginning – was the subject of an intense, eight-hour debate in the Senate judiciary committee. Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, was one among many who offered testimony at the Feb. 23 hearing that stretched well into the night.
“We look at this as a pro-life issue,” said Espada, an attorney and former deputy prosecutor in Marion County. “We know that in states where there isn’t a background check and a license that suicides with handguns and homicides with handguns go up.”
While Espada acknowledged the importance of Second Amendment rights, she argued that current state law does not pose an undue burden on individuals. Moreover, she offers a comparison.
“Voting is a constitutional right, but states make rules and have procedures before people can vote,” Espada said.
But the primary author of the bill, Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn), and supporters of the legislation maintain that lawful individuals should not have to face what they consider unnecessary hurdles in obtaining handgun permits.
“House Bill 1077 gets us to a place where the law-abiding citizen is not required to go through a process of asking permission, submitting to a government investigation and supplying their fingerprints to enjoy a right that is constitutional at the federal level and at the state level,” Rep. Smaltz said in introducing his bill before the Senate judiciary committee, chaired by Sen. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne).
“This bill seeks to level the playing field for law-abiding Hoosiers to defend themselves in public like they would at home because the criminals are not submitting themselves to these sorts of investigations.”
Jennifer Haan, a Catholic mother and anti-gun-violence activist who also happens to be a licensed gun owner, offered a strong counterpoint. She was among a contingent of Indiana members of the national advocacy group Moms Demand Action present at the Feb. 23 hearing.
“I can attest that the process to apply for a license to carry (a handgun) is less cumbersome than filling out kindergarten-registration forms,” said Haan, who leads the Indiana chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization fighting for public-safety measures to protect people from gun violence. “We are doing more to vet the parents chaperoning field trips than the strangers who will be bringing guns to Mass with our kids. That doesn’t make sense to me.
“The licensure process is not a burdensome process,” she added. “It is a burden to lose a child to gun violence.”
At press time, the fate of House Bill 1077 – which would make Indiana the 22nd state to pass this type of legislation – still hung in the balance.
Near the conclusion of the lengthy Senate hearing, which included testimony from out-of-state lobbyists supporting the bill, a late amendment stripped the measure dramatically. By a 6-5 vote, the committee approved the amendment, proposed by Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, to provide individuals with a provisional permit to carry a handgun while awaiting their license.
From here, the bill could undergo further review in a conference committee – the mechanism for reconciling House and Senate versions of a bill – or it could be added to a different bill in the closing days of the legislative session.
A pro-life measure that the ICC hopes will eventually reach Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk is House Bill 1217, which would make it a felony in Indiana to coerce a woman into having an abortion.
The bill, authored by Rep. Joanna King (R-Middlebury), requires medical personnel to ask a pregnant woman seeking an abortion whether she has been forced by someone to do so. If she indicates that she has, the medical provider would be required to offer her information on services available, the use of a telephone and an alternative exit from the healthcare facility.
In addition, the bill mandates reporting of a coerced abortion to law enforcement. The measure, which passed the House on a 73-18 vote in January and the Senate on a 38-10 vote on Feb. 22, now returns to the House with minor amendments.
“The provisions of this bill provide resources for vulnerable women and hold offenders accountable,” said Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC, during House committee testimony in January. “This reflects the Church’s priorities, and we lend our full support.”
If the measure is ultimately passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Indiana would become the 19th state to offer protections to women from coerced abortion.
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.