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Indiana Legislature convenes special session to consider abortion ban

<i>AJ Mast/AP</i><br/>Abortion-rights activists rally at the Indiana Statehouse following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 25 in Indianapolis. Indiana lawmakers are reconvening on July 25 to consider more restrictions on abortion.
AP
AJ Mast/AP
Abortion-rights activists rally at the Indiana Statehouse following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 25 in Indianapolis. Indiana lawmakers are reconvening on July 25 to consider more restrictions on abortion.

By Veronica Stracqualursi, Chandelis Duster and Laura Ly, CNN

Indiana lawmakers reconvened on Monday to consider more restrictions on abortion, the first state to hold a special session with the goal of potentially curtailing abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month.

A special Indiana General Assembly committee met for more than four hours on Monday to discuss Senate Bill 1, which would prohibit abortion unless the procedure was necessary to prevent a “substantial permanent impairment” to the life of the mother. Republicans control the state legislature.

The GOP-authored bill would also bar abortion clinics from performing surgical abortions and require in-person dispensation of an abortion-inducing drug used in a medication abortion. It would include exceptions in cases of rape or incest so long as the pregnant person provides the physician with an affidavit attesting to the rape or incest.

The state Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee meeting featured extensive public debate, with dozens of individuals, from doctors to faith leaders to private citizens, voicing their opinions on the bill. While some opposed the legislation for the limitations it places on abortion, other opposed what they described as vague language and the proposed exceptions in the measure.

Although many states nationwide are examining their laws in the wake of last month’s Supreme Court ruling, particular attention has been paid to Indiana after a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio crossed state lines to get an abortion. Indiana presently allows abortions up to 20 weeks after fertilization (or 22 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period).

And last week, the Supreme Court cleared the way for Indiana to try to implement a law that restricts access to abortion for minors that had been blocked by lower courts.

State Senate Republican leaders have said that they hope to have a final vote on SB1 by Friday to send it to the state House for consideration. If passed, the bill would go into effect September 1.

Speaking before the committee Monday, several speakers invoked their faith and one woman expressed her opposition to the bill, citing her fertility battle.

Ariel Ream called the proposed legislation “abhorrent,” saying it would likely impact her ability to have a baby since she is at very high-risk for a stillbirth or miscarriage.

“Who gets to decide when my life is truly at risk? Who gets to decide when the abnormalities of the fetus are fatal enough?” Ream asked. “When is the line enough and how many women get to die before it gets drawn?”

Dr. Mary Ott, a pediatrician, told lawmakers that she opposed the bill because “access to safe and legal abortion is an essential component of … reproductive health care.”

“Bans on abortion pose a threat to the health and well being of Indiana youth, impacting physical, mental health, educational and economic outcomes, including higher adolescent maternal mortality,” Ott said, adding that the proposed legislation politicizes what should be a private decision and will deepen health disparities among people of color.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tyler Johnson, who is running for state Senate, said he supported the intent of the bill, but argued that it could be manipulated as written due to what he called “vague” wording.

“I ask that we remove or refine the exemption language, protect all unborn children, and place appropriate criminal penalties for willfully and unnecessarily taking the life of an unborn child,” he said.

While Indiana is the only state as of now to hold a special session to consider restrictive abortion legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, a few other states either plan to or have opened the door to possibly returning for a special legislative session. New York and Wisconsin have already held special sessions that had abortion-related legislation on the agenda.

Democratic focus

Abortion rights have become a focal point among Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in November.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday held a roundtable discussion with state lawmakers in Indianapolis, telling them that the court’s decision “took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America — the women of America” and highlighting how the court’s decision may put other established rights at risk.

The vice president did not answer questions from the press about whether she would support President Joe Biden declaring a national or public health emergency on the matter, which members of Congress and reproductive rights organizations have continued to call for but Biden has not yet moved to do.

The trip marked Harris’ latest in a series of stops around the country focused on reproductive rights following the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal right to abortion.

In a meeting with lawmakers in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, Harris pledged the Biden administration’s support for protecting abortion rights while also hitting Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin for pledging to sign an anti-abortion legislation into law.

“The governor of Virginia, I’ve read, says he will, quote ‘gleefully’ sign a law to take away reproductive rights. So I would also like to be clear that I’m fully aware of the context in which we meet, in terms of what this will mean to the people of Virginia,” Harris told a group of state delegates on Saturday. “And what is at stake directly in this state, in terms of their rights, and their rights in particular as it relates to a governor who is apparently prepared to restrict and even ban abortion based on an interpretation of the words he spoke.”

Elsewhere, Kansas will allow voters to consider the issue on August 2 during its primary election, making it the first state to vote on a state constitutional amendment related to abortion, which is currently legal up to 20 weeks after fertilization (or 22 weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period). It is also one of several states to which people from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri travel for abortion services.

This headline and story have been updated with additional details Monday.

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CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Rebekah Riess and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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