Abortion, conscience and the legislature


March 10, 2016 4:40 PM

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When I first began covering politics for The Indianapolis Star in 1991, there was an emotional battle underway to keep abortion out of a party platform: The Republican Party platform.

It was led mostly by strong-willed Republican women, many of whom called themselves pro-life but who saw a government dictate as conflicting with their belief in a small government that respects individual liberty.

Times have certainly changed. An anti-abortion stance has become synonymous with the GOP and the legislature — usually led by Republicans but also anti-abortion Democrats — has passed numerous restrictions on a woman’s ability to make the health care decisions she deems best for herself.

This week, the legislature added to those laws by passing House Bill 1337. It began as legislation regulating the disposal of a fetus. Thursday, the House voted 60-40 to adopt changes added in the Senate — changes which the House never held hearings on nor debated until that vote — which bar women from having an abortion for reasons of race, gender or disability. That includes severe disabilities which would be fatal to the infant after delivery.

Proponents argued that it may save a life, and said that the disability couldn’t be the sole reason for the abortion. Opponents argued that it left the state trying to divine a woman’s motives, since abortion for no stated reason is still legal in the first trimester, and potentially forcing her to lie to her physician.

Listening to the debate I could not help but remember 1991, and the announcement by then-Mayor Bill Hudnut and his wife, Beverly, that they had aborted her much-wanted pregnancy in the 18th week after tests showed the fetus had numerous abnormalities, including ancephaly.

In a letter in 1992 to the Republican National Committee, which was wrestling with putting an anti-abortion plank in its platform, the Hudnuts wrote that: “It was a heart-wrenching decision because we wanted our baby very badly and already loved him dearly.”

“We would have been terribly upset if an outside force, namely government, had prevented us from following the dictates of our conscience,” they wrote.

Under the bill now headed to Gov. Mike Pence, who surely will sign it into law, the Hudnuts — who later were blessed with a healthy child — would have been forced to either continue the pregnancy or lie that the massive abnormalities were not the sole reason for aborting a pregnancy that they otherwise wanted very much to continue.

The debate over the bill, though, showed one thing hasn’t changed all that much. It was largely Republican women in the Indiana House of Representatives who bravely stood up and urged their colleagues to defeat the bill. Some argued that such a major change shouldn’t be allowed to become law without a hearing and the input of constituents. Some argued that the state was inappropriately substituting its wisdom for that of the women, their families, physicians and ministers.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, was among those who said her “no” vote on the bill didn’t make her any less of a pro-life advocate.

But, she said, “this (bill) signals a move back to backroom abortions to avoid the shame.”

She predicted the barrage of election-year mailers she and other “no” votes likely will receive attacking them on this issue from those they have considered allies, but said policy trumps political considerations.

Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, emotionally shared her own story of turning to Planned Parenthood when she found her self a pregnant teenager. She didn’t go through with the abortion, but called the legislation government over-reach, with no debate in a House committee on this issue and no chance for her constituents to weigh in.

And Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, told her colleagues that she is “pro-life” but could not support a bill that says the state knows better than grieving parents. Parents, in my view, like the Hudnuts.

A majority of the House, though, didn’t listen to them. Instead, they did what Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, warned them against.

Eberhart said his wife was “as pro-life as they come” but in talking to her on the bill she had had questions, lots of them — including why the legislature didn’t take the time to properly debate the issue and carefully examine the language of the bill to fully understand what it did and didn’t mean to a woman faced with delivering a severely or even fatally disabled infant.

And he concluded pretty much where the Hudnuts and those strong Indiana Republican women did back in 1992: Perhaps government shouldn’t make the most personal decision for every family even in pursuit of a lofty goal.

Looking out at a legislature of mostly men, Eberhart said: “We just need to quit pretending we know what’s best for women and their health care needs.”


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  • Redigo Gubernatio

    The bottom line is abortion is murder and should be opposed by every decent human being

    • IndyJEF

      You make a very complex decision very simplistic from your self-righteous perch. And, what do you know about women’s health?

      • Redigo Gubernatio

        What about the health of the child that’s been murdered? Explain to God that you took his gift and butchered it because the woman was worried about her “health”. if you don’t believe in God thenI feel sorry for you and I’ll pray for you. But please explain to all of us why Butchering a baby in the womb is not Murder!

        • IndyJEF

          Your biases have jumped to the conclusion that I don’t believe in God because I might not see things the way you do. Who put you in charge of the morality police? I’m not going to get into a prolonged debate with you about when life begins and is sustainable. Moreover, I think the issue is a woman’s right to chose, not yours. You obviously have your mind made up. And, you don’t need to pray for me. But, thanks anyway.

          • Redigo Gubernatio

            The bottom line is still the same Abortion is murder.

          • Sense71

            You’re looking at this through a very narrow lens, very black and white. Life is not black and white. I am devoutly Christian and very pro-life, but in the big picture of Democratic government, your view may not be the best view for all, sorry. Deal with it – we are not a “Christian nation” based on what the Founders set out to create. Republicans once believed in limited government and greater choice, and bills like this only further damage their credibility as far as governing “for all.” Someday karma is going to come home to roost, and Democrats will have enough votes to repeal this. Just watch.

          • Redigo Gubernatio

            Karma which really means Satan and the DEMONcrat Party. In your world since people will be murderers anyway let’s just give in and support it. Not me or any decent human being

          • IndyJEF

            Well said!

        • ReidDA

          You mean the health of a child that will now be forced to live an excruciatingly painful and short life due to defects that aren’t compatible with life?

  • IndyJEF

    The GOP is filled with hypocrites. They call for less government and less regulation and less tax but they want to regulate women’s health down to the nitty gritty. I hope Indiana women and others who support a woman right to choose will eventually repudiate the morality gang in the state house. Too bad Mayor Hudnut is not still around to make the same arguments he and his wife did years ago.

  • Redigo Gubernatio

    The GOP and DEMONcrats also believe murder is illegal. With your logic murder should be legal . what a fool

  • George Stuteville

    I remember seeing Mayor Hudnut and Beverly in front of the Longworth House Office Bldg. in DC. They had already written the letter. It was so humbling to see and understand the impact of public policy on personal decision. At the time they were attempting to influence the national GOP by sharing their story together.

  • TonyRaskoon

    I am pro-life. Forcing women to bring anencephalics to term is just mean-spirited. Same with other catastrophic fetal anomalies that render a women’s child nonviable. Essentially, these babies are doomed beyond salvage. This is a decision best kept between mother, father and physician. This is a case where Gov. Pence could pleasantly surprise us with a veto and a compassionate and heartfelt explanation of why. I hope he considers those tragic cases prior to deciding.

  • Jim Williams

    Regardless of ones beliefs it is just wrong to believe that politicos know whats best for the electorate…The over hyped issue now being ridden by the Republican party will result in another defeat…The decision regarding the fetus is between the female , her doctor and her god…That’s the bottom line !!

  • Peggy Mayfield, Patricia Miller, Liz Brown, Jean Leising, Sue Glick. I guess those four women are really dudes according to Eberhart’s and Schneider’s shared logic. I guess babies with Down’s Syndrome don’t have a Right to Life.

    • Lance Lake

      Dismissing your inane “Downs Syndrome baby” throwaway on it’s face, yes, Peggy Mayfield may indeed be a dude.

  • Jim Williams

    All government regulations regarding a woman’s right to choose anything are wrong…Abortion issues should be left with the woman , her doctor and her god….That is it …No other intrusions and the RINOs love to have this as an agenda item and get beat in every election…