Following the historic special session of the state legislature that concluded on Aug. 5 after two weeks of emotional debate, the Catholic Church in Indiana hailed the strides made in protecting life and supporting mothers and families while calling for more work to be done.
This month, 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 that had declared a constitutional right to an abortion, returning 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 on July 25, when lawmakers returned to Indianapolis for the special legislative session that originally had been intended to focus solely on providing relief for Hoosiers from soaring inflation. The two-week effort culminated in a marathon session on Aug. 5, resulting in the passage of groundbreaking legislation including Senate Bill 1, a measure significantly limiting abortion that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law late 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 goes into effect Sept. 15, bans both 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.
The five Catholic bishops of Indiana hailed the legislation as an important step forward in respecting the dignity of life, which is at the apex of Catholic social teaching.
“With Senate Enrolled Act 1 passed and signed into law by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, we remain steadfast in our efforts to build a culture of life and to protect the God-given dignity and humanity of all unborn babies and their mothers in our state,” said Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson. “Our faith calls us to be voices for the voiceless, and we will continue to support all efforts to legally protect human life from the moment of conception until natural death.”
Leaders of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), which represents the state’s Catholic bishops and serves as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana, were among those to offer testimony during the special session. While praising lawmakers for their “difficult work,” the ICC had 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.
The ICC had testified on the similar House Bill 1001, which was ultimately absorbed into Senate Bill 2. The legislation includes other provisions to support families, including increasing the adoption tax credit, suspending the sales tax on diapers, and extending postpartum care under Medicaid to 12 months.
“Today, I proudly signed Senate Enrolled Act 2 to return $1 billion back to Hoosier taxpayers,” Holcomb said in a statement on Aug. 5. “This fulfills what I set out to accomplish when calling the General Assembly into special session in order to help Hoosiers hurting from historically high inflation.”
The governor added that he appreciates the “long overdue increased funding to support the health of our Hoosier mothers and babies.”
“While there is still more to do, better access and awareness of all of our programs will be critical to improving our infant and maternal mortality rates – a long-standing priority of my administration,” Holcomb said.
An amendment to the legislation allows for funds for natural family planning education, which is encouraged by the Church.
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.
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