March 5, 2021

School choice, pro-life measures still in play at midpoint of legislative session

By Victoria Arthur

At the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) and other allies are closely monitoring and calling for public engagement on important bills that continue to advance at the Statehouse.

Last week, the Indiana General Assembly reached what is known as crossover—the midway point of the session, during which bills that are still active move from one legislative chamber to the other. This is a long session of the legislature, held every other year and culminating in the passage of the state’s two-year budget.

A major proposal to expand school choice is among the measures the ICC and other advocates are tracking. House Bill 1005, which would extend the school voucher program to middle and upper-middle-class families and increase scholarship amounts for all students receiving vouchers, passed the House on a 61-38 vote. All of the Democrats in the chamber voted against the measure, along with nine Republicans.

Now that the bill has moved to the Senate, advocacy in favor of the measure will be critically important, according to John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association (INPEA).

“It will be more of an uphill battle in the Senate, which isn’t as broadly supportive of all the expansions to school choice,” said Elcesser, whose organization represents Indiana’s more than 400 non-public schools, including the state’s 175 Catholic schools. “Thus far, Senate lawmakers have pulled much of the choice language out of similar Senate bills with the idea of rolling it into the budget bill. It will take non-public school stakeholders reaching out to their senators if we are to be successful.

“There is strong and vocal opposition to these efforts, and we have to provide the other side of the story if school choice expansion is going to find its way into law, whether it be in House Bill 1005 or in House Bill 1001, the budget bill.”

The ICC supports the legislation and encourages the Catholic faithful to contact their elected representatives on this and other matters important to the Church and the common good.

“At this critical point in the legislative session, there are bills that need to be supported, and bills that need to be defeated,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “So we are asking everyone to make their voices heard.”

A significant pro-life bill is another measure that the ICC is watching closely. House Bill 1577, authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville), would require abortion providers to offer additional information and resources to women who are considering abortion, including an ultrasound image of their unborn child.

The most intensely debated aspect of the bill involves providing women with information about possibly reversing a chemical, or medication, abortion. This method of abortion, which is reserved for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, involves the ingestion of two pills within a 24- to 48-hour period. Women sometimes change their minds after taking the first pill, mifepristone, and the legislation would require abortion providers to inform them about an option that could potentially save the unborn child—taking the hormone progesterone after that initial abortion pill is consumed.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the measure, and two Indiana physicians testifying against the bill questioned both the safety and the effectiveness of abortion pill reversal. But another obstetrician, Dr. Christina Francis, argued that there is a simple principle behind the method.

“Though abortion supporters claim that this is experimental, nothing could be further from the truth,” said Francis, a Fort Wayne-based physician who chairs the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The reversal of mifepristone with progesterone is consistent with a basic scientific principle that we all learned about in medical school.”

The ICC also provided testimony in favor of the bill during a House committee hearing.

“The Church consistently stands in firm support of pregnant women and their unborn children,” said Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC. “We believe this bill’s provisions align with the Church’s vision of the dignity of the human person. We also recognize that this legislation is just one piece that’s necessary as we advocate for the proper support, health care, spiritual care and tender concern for vulnerable women who face the daunting challenges of abortion.”

Another effort that the ICC considers pro-life has once again stalled at the Statehouse despite backing from Gov. Eric Holcomb and a host of advocates. Legislation that would have required employers to provide women with reasonable accommodations during their pregnancy—adjustments as simple as offering them more frequent breaks or access to appropriate seating—failed to gain traction.

Another disappointment for the ICC and other advocates during the first half of the legislative session was the overriding of Holcomb’s veto of a landlord-tenant bill that was rushed through last year’s General Assembly. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 148 was the result of language added to an unrelated Senate bill during the 2020 legislative session and passed with little opportunity for debate.

SEA 148 was the only bill the governor vetoed last year. The ICC and others wanted the veto to stand because the legislation placed an even greater imbalance in the relationship between landlords and tenants, which in Indiana typically favors landlords. Ultimately, however, lawmakers overturned the veto.

“During a time when the pandemic has caused untold numbers of people, through no fault of their own, to be without an income to pay rent, government entities should be compassionately working to keep people housed, not making it easier for them to be thrust into the streets,” Espada said. “As we move forward with the second half of the legislative session, we will always stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and call on the Catholic faithful to do the same.”

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.
 

(Victoria Arthur, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †

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