Both opponents and supporters of abortion rights gathered to protest at the Indiana statehouse on Monday as legislators assembled for a special session on banning the procedure.
The session, which may last several weeks, will give Senate Republicans a chance to introduce a bill prohibiting abortion with few exceptions. If they’re successful, Indiana will join about a dozen other states that have banned the procedure, with many more expected to follow now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
Journalists present for the session said protests in the Capitol rotunda were so loud they could be heard inside the Senate chamber, where the floors and walls were reportedly shaking from people stomping their feet.
The demonstrations took over all three floors of the rotunda, with competing chants of “My body, my choice” and “Not your body, not your choice” booming throughout the building, reporters said. Nearly 300 people are signed up to deliver public comment.
The current text of the legislation, authored by Republican state Sen. Sue Glick, would ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Experts have pointed out that such “life-saving” exceptions are poorly defined, confusing for doctors and could lead to pregnant people being put at unnecessary medical risk.
When pressed by Democrats on Monday as to why the bill doesn’t include a clearer exception for abortion based on the pregnant person’s physical health, Glick said the bill’s sponsors are planning to “tighten up” that language.
Glick added that as lawmakers propose amendments to the bill throughout the special session, her party will likely add language limiting the window of time when victims of rape and incest may seek an abortion.
One of the first speakers during the public comment period was Dr. Mary Ott, a pediatrician testifying against the bill on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Indiana chapter. She argued that lowering abortion rates in Indiana should be done through better sex education and access to contraceptives, not by banning a procedure that should be a private decision.
Dr. Mary Abernathy from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists followed shortly after, warning lawmakers that the law would disproportionately affect low-income women of color while more affluent white women could afford to travel out of state for abortions.
Some of the commenters in support of ending abortion access said they were unhappy with the bill’s rape and incest exceptions.
Indiana Republicans, who hold a 71-29 majority in the House and a 39-11 majority in the Senate, have until Aug. 14 to pass the bill, but party leaders have expressed confidence they can wrap up ahead of the deadline with a week to spare.
Vice President Kamala Harris met with nearly all of the Indiana Senate Democrats on Monday ahead of the special session to express her support for them as they begin a long-shot effort to block the legislation.
“I would also say that on this issue, one does not have to abandon your faith or your beliefs to agree that the government should not be making this decision for her,” she said at a roundtable meeting. “An individual should be able to choose based on their personal beliefs and the dictates of their faith. But the government should not be telling an individual what to do, especially as it relates to one of the most intimate and personal decisions a woman could make.”
Perhaps, Harris added, “some people need to actually learn how a woman’s body works.”
There has been an intense spotlight on abortion in Indiana throughout July after Republicans targeted a doctor in the state for providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim. The child traveled from Ohio, where the procedure has already been banned, for care.
In an appearance on Fox News earlier this month, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said he planned to pursue charges against the provider, Dr. Caitlin Bernard.
He accused her of not following the proper protocol and called her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report” the procedure to the state, which Indiana doctors are required to do within three days when performing abortions on a patient under 16.
But media investigations quickly confirmed that Bernard had reported the abortion and had no history of misconduct regarding the law.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also attacked Bernard on Fox News, baselessly claiming there was “not a whisper anywhere” of a 10-year-old being raped in Ohio. Within a matter of days, multiple media reports confirmed that a 27-year-old man was arrested and charged after he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions.
Bernard issued a claim notice last week stating she’s suing Rokita for defamation and needs monetary damages from him to cover security costs and legal fees after suffering reputational harm and emotional distress because of his comments.