Opportunist anti-abortion politicians in Indiana are making the most of this week’s regressive political turn, sending a clear message that they want to make pregnancy unsafe. On Wednesday, November 17th, 2016, State Rep. Curt Nisly promised to file what he calls “Protection at Conception” legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January. This alarmingly unscrupulous declaration is connivingly opportunist and dangerously lacking in real world knowledge about why abortion must remain legal for all pregnancy to be safe. Rep. Nisly’s authoritarian and deceptive intentions run counter to everything we know and value when it comes to pregnancy, families, and our community.
With stunning brazenness, and despite a clear Supreme Court victory this year, anti-abortion lawmakers have been emboldened by the most anti-abortion incoming administration ever. Hoosiers are well aware of Gov. Mike Pence’s unconstitutional and unjust treatment of abortion rights; indeed they have witnessed first hand his almost fanatical obsession with limiting abortion at the expense of compassionate and common sense legislation. Indiana is safe from Gov. Pence returning, but the legislature has doubled down on the dehumanizing language it applies to those seeking abortions.
The idea that conception can be protected by law is an outright lie. How many of our friends and family members have suffered through multiple miscarriages within the first months of pregnancy? Indiana politicians need to come to terms with the reality that pregnancy doesn’t always have a certain outcome. We know this because we’ve experienced it when we have been beside our family members and our friends as they’ve carried the pain of infertility, stillbirth, and miscarriage. We’ve cried and mourned with them. And when we want to start a family of our own, we carry all of those possibilities as fears. Abortion does not exist in a vacuum. Abortion and miscarriage aren’t so far apart from each other that we can criminalize one without damaging and stigmatizing the other even further.
These fears are even more real for people living in Indiana. Already, Indiana is not a safe place for pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or miscarriage. It has the fourth highest rate of maternal deaths in the United States, its early infant mortality rate is just as alarming at 7.1 percent (compared to a national average of 5.6 percent), and the disparity is 2.3 times higher between Black and white infant deaths. Overall, Indiana residents have worse health outcomes than the rest of the nation, particularly among people of color. The fact that people of color are at greater risk for miscarriage puts them also at greater risk for incarceration due to feticide laws already on the books, such as those applied to Indiana residents Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel, which medical and legal experts have witnessed and decried.
Shelly Dodson, Director of All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center fears that politicians are setting up a dangerous divide between doctors and patients, and describes what it’s like to lack support from the state government:
“The state of Indiana has shown that it is more than willing to sacrifice the health of families in order to make abortion inaccessible. The research is clear. If pregnant people fear criminal consequences, they don’t go to the doctor. Indiana is setting a dangerous precedent not to trust the medical community. Choosing to criminalize people around pregnancy decisions and pregnancy outcomes is a grave injustice. The state of Indiana is sending a loud message, to anyone who is considering terminating a pregnancy, ‘you don’t deserve help, you don’t deserve support – you deserve jail.’ People throughout Indiana deserve open-hearted support through all their pregnancy and parenting turning points and to be treated with respect and dignity.
At a time when so many Hoosier families are struggling to make ends meet, we wish that Indiana would use funding to truly support families by providing job training, child care, and other safety net services, rather than using this political moment to promote an anti-abortion agenda. People of color, low-income people, and other vulnerable communities are going to be hit the hardest if a law like this goes into effect.”
It’s time to take a cold, hard look at Indiana’s support for pregnant people and families, and it doesn’t look good. While state legislators have been pushing detrimental policies like HB 1337 through to Gov. Mike Pence’s desk, and now this, they’ve also failed to ensure that Indiana’s parents and families have the resources they need to be healthy and raise their children with dignity and support. While politicians try to withhold our ability to make our own reproductive decisions, they are simultaneously slashing programs that make parenting a less daunting task: providing free or low-cost parenting supplies like diapers, ensuring people earn a living wage, and offering subsidized child care.
Yamani Hernandez, Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, says,
“People of color are bearing the brunt of unscientific laws and misplaced moral outrage against abortion, which then blurs into the territory of miscarriage, putting any pregnant person at risk of prosecution and incarceration. We won’t watch while Indiana becomes the most dangerous state for pregnant people. And we will say it again and again, as many times as it needs to be said until politicians find their way. Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is a necessary social good for many who are not able to parent in safe, healthy, or supportive environments. Abortion is deeply necessary as an option for all people who become pregnant. When abortion is legal, funded, and protected, that’s when we know our legislators care about our lives, our health, our futures, and our families.”
Indiana is truly at the crossroads of what the U.S. may become when it comes to our reproductive lives. We hope Indiana legislators will be guided in their policy making by valuing that every person considering whether or how to parent must navigate that complexity for themselves and their families – with complete access to all health care and support options, and without shame. We all should be able to decide for ourselves when, whether, and under what circumstances to become a parent.
All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center works every day to make sure that people who walk through its doors are respected and given all the information and resources they need. All-Options serves hundreds of Hoosiers each month, providing all-options pregnancy counseling as well as abortion funding alongside free diapers, baby clothes and supplies, safer sex kits, and referrals for all kinds of health care and social services. In short, they offer services that make pregnancy and family planning a lot easier, despite the roadblocks the state government puts in people’s way.
The National Network of Abortion Funds builds power with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice. In 2014, NNAF and member organizations received 116,000 requests, and assisted 30,000 individuals seeking $3.5 million in funding for abortions, transportation assistance, translation, and childcare.