August 12, 2022

Historic session advances cause of protecting life, provides economic relief for families

By Victoria Arthur

After Indiana became the first state in the nation to enact a new law extending legal protection to unborn babies, the Catholic Church in Indiana hailed the state legislature’s efforts to protect life and support mothers and families while calling for more work to be done.

The state legislature’s Aug. 5 vote to significantly limit abortions in Indiana was quickly signed into law by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and will go into effect on Sept 15.

The enactment of the law came after a special session of the state legislature, in response to the historic 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.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was among the state’s bishops who hailed the new law 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 Archbishop 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.

“Our Church remains vigilant in its efforts to do all that it can to provide loving support to women before and after the birth of their babies,” he continued, “regardless of creed, ethnicity or language, so that no woman ever feels alone.”

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 Enrolled Act 1, a measure significantly limiting abortion in Indiana.

“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 law will ban 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 law will terminate the licensure of all abortion centers and will require abortions to be performed in hospitals or surgical centers owned by hospitals. Currently, nearly all abortions in Indiana take place in abortion centers.

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 Enrolled Act 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.”

An amendment to the legislation allows for funds for natural family planning education, which is encouraged by the Church.

The ICC has long advocated for a comprehensive approach to upholding the dignity of life—from protecting the unborn to providing adequate support for mothers, children and families. In recent years, for example, the ICC has supported legislative efforts to expand reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace and increase monthly payments in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which has not seen a meaningful update in more than three decades.

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.

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

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