Indiana Republican lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly advanced a plan to ban nearly all abortions in the state, despite opposition from abortion-rights supporters, who say the bill goes too far, and anti-abortion activists, who say it doesn’t go far enough.
Chants from anti-abortion activists, such as “Let their heartbeat,” could be heard inside the chamber as a committee wrapped up two days of testimony during which none of the more than 60 people speaking voiced support for the Republican-sponsored bill.
A top legislative Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, voted against it, lamenting the “near impossibility of threading the perfect needle” on the issue during a short special legislative session.
Indiana is one of the first Republican-run state legislatures to debate tighter abortion laws following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade. The court ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.
While abortion-rights supporters oppose the Indiana bill’s severe limits on access to the procedure, abortion opponents say it is too lenient with its exceptions and lacks enforcement teeth.
The committee voted 7-5 in favor of the bill after adding provisions under which doctors could face felony criminal charges for performing an illegal abortion, along with limiting the time period allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest to eight weeks of pregnancy for women ages 16 or older and 12 weeks for those younger than 16.
Cathie Humbarger, a longtime leader of the Fort Wayne-based Right to Life chapter, said the bill should be scrapped.
“It is totally unenforceable and as such renders it basically worthless,” Humbarger told the committee. “You can, and must, do better.”
More amendments to the bill could be debated by the full Senate on Thursday.
The measure would prohibit abortions when an egg is implanted in a woman’s uterus with limited exceptions — in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the mother’s life. The proposal followed the political firestorm over a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to Indiana from neighboring Ohio to end a pregnancy.
The case gained attention when an Indianapolis doctor said the child had to go to Indiana because a newly imposed Ohio law bans abortions if cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo or fetus, possibly as early as six weeks of pregnancy.
Indiana Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said legislators were discussing details on abortion limits that they never faced before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“We’re recognizing that this is pretty hard work,” Bray said. “We’re working in earnest to try and find a path forward, listening to everybody that’s out there.”
Elsewhere Tuesday, a South Carolina judge temporarily denied a request to block enforcement of that state’s six-week abortion ban. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and other plaintiffs had asked the judge for an injunction while courts determine whether the law violates the state constitution’s rights to privacy and equal protection.
In Louisiana, a judge rejected a request from state officials to lift his order blocking a ban while they pursue an appeal. That means abortions remain accessible in Louisiana.