With Indiana’s abortion ban now in effect, local organizers say the focus of their efforts has shifted.
While some abortion-rights advocates are looking to the fall general election to vote supportive candidates into office, one of the state’s most prominent anti-abortion groups said it will lobby lawmakers to pass a stricter abortion ban next legislative session.
Protesters gathered around Indianapolis throughout the day Thursday and into the evening, stopping at the governor’s mansion, Monument Circle and Tarkington Park.
Happening now: I’m at Tarkington Park where abortion rights supporters are starting to gather. About a couple dozen are here now. The group plans to March from the park to the Governor’s residence. @WFYINews pic.twitter.com/v452fAo9i5— Darian Benson (@HelloImDarian) September 15, 2022
Noah Thomas, a junior at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and one of the protest organizers, said the day’s events are the first of many big events abortion rights advocates have planned.
“It’s not OK and the majority of Hoosiers agree that it’s not OK,” Thomas said. “And we’re going to keep fighting.”
Indiana was the first state to pass an abortion ban after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The new law bans most abortions with limited exceptions.
Now that the law has taken effect, some abortion rights advocacy groups are preparing to work with health care providers to help women access abortion care out-of-state, said Julie Storbeck, president of the Indiana National Organization for Women, one of the organizers of rallies that took place Thursday.
“We will be working with health care facilities to help ensure that anyone who needs reproductive health care can access it legally,” Storbeck said. “And privately, we will be working on getting out the vote for pro-choice candidates.”
While some gathered in protest of the new law, the anti-abortion organization Indiana Right to Life celebrated the law as a “new opportunity.” CEO Mike Fichter said in a statement that the law is a “fresh new hope that a movement of the heart will unfold in Indiana that sets the pace for protecting life and providing the care and support pregnant mothers deserve.”
In addition to the measure that bans abortion, another bill that passed during Indiana’s special legislative session allocates more than $70 million for support for pregnant Hoosiers, children and families. Fichter said Indiana Right to Life supports this increase in financial support, which includes a tax credit for adoption and funding to programs.
“We are fans of the vast network of over 100 pregnancy resource centers across Indiana providing free counseling, services and support to pregnant moms and their babies,” Fichter said in an email to WFYI. “We strongly believe that as a state, we can’t just talk about valuing life, we have to provide a well-rounded network of support for moms and babies.”
Scenes from protests across the city
Outside the governor’s mansion on Thursday, a few dozen people had gathered by mid-afternoon to protest. That number grew to more than a hundred by early evening. The demonstrators held signs and chanted as cars drove by on North Meridian Street, honking their horns in support.
Among them was Indianapolis resident Nancy Kohn, who said she wants to send a message to state leaders and the governor.
“It’s fine for you, Governor Holcomb, to believe that life begins at conception, but not everybody does,” Kohn said. “I’m Jewish, and in my faith we believe life begins at birth.”
Nancy Kohn, of Indianapolis, is among the demonstrators here today. She opposes SB 1 and says it’s crucial Hoosiers vote in November in the midterm elections. She made 10 signs for todays protest. pic.twitter.com/guwt7I1L58— Katrina Pross (@katrina_pross) September 15, 2022
One of the event’s organizers, Monique Rust, said the political fight isn’t over for activists like her, who will be working to boost turnout at upcoming elections and get more people to vote for candidates that support abortion rights.
Demonstrators say they are lying on the ground in remembrance of those who have died from not being able to obtain a safe abortion pic.twitter.com/4hU7ZlaOzT— Katrina Pross (@katrina_pross) September 15, 2022
Jysica Payne with Shout Your Abortion, a group aimed at normalizing abortion, handed out information about self-managed abortion.
“Even though our government may have taken away the right to a medical procedure, there may still be ways to access safe and legal abortion care outside of that spectrum,” Payne said.
Marching now. “My body, my choice.” pic.twitter.com/Zi7PPwYi4U— Darian Benson (@HelloImDarian) September 15, 2022
Speakers stood on the lawn of the governor’s mansion and spoke in opposition of the law.
State Senator Fady Qaddoura, a Democrat representing the 30th District in the Indiana Senate, said the state’s Republicans have pushed their own religious views on Hoosiers. He urged the crowd to “vote out” Republicans in this year’s election.
“Your choice is on the ballot this November, your rights are on the ballot,” Qaddoura said.
A small number of abortion rights opponents also turned out to show their support for the new abortion law.
Alex Yarbor, a senior at IUPUI, said he came out to talk with abortion rights supporters and represent the campus’ student organization, the Life Defenders.
“We’re not here to judge, we’re not here to persecute, we’re here to be humble servants of the cause of life,” Yarbor said. “We sincerely believe [abortion rights supporters] have the best of intentions, we just think they have the wrong policy.”
Yarbor said he and others from his student group tried talking with people but were “met with some opposition.”
“We kind of decided we’re not wanted here. We’re just gonna try to stay back, hold up our signs and pray for them, because that’s all we’re called to do,” he said.
What comes next
Groups like the National Organization for Women Indiana plan to capitalize on the energy among community members galvanized by the abortion ban.
“Women are furious. They're enraged. They're terrified,” NOW Indiana President Storbeck said.
“So, past September 15, we will be working on getting out the vote for pro-choice candidates. We want to do everything in our power from phone banking, to canvassing postcard campaigns, registering voters, driving people to the polls.”
Continuing advocacy work will include more protests and marches, which Strobeck said is an important part of their efforts.
“As we go out and protest and people see us standing there holding signs that say ‘Abortion is health care’, ‘Abortion saves lives,’ it's starting conversations on social media, at dinner tables, with kids in school talking about reproduction,” she said.
Indiana Right to Life’s CEO Mike Fichter said his organization supports the new law and will continue to lobby for an even stricter ban.
“We believe every unborn child is valuable, regardless of the means of conception,” he said. “We are also concerned that lack of a police reporting requirement, in instances of rape and incest abortions, will potentially let perpetrators of these violent acts off the hook legally, and provide incentive for some doctors to maneuver around the law.”
While legal efforts by abortion clinics and providers to block the law from immediately taking effect were unsucessful, Fichter said in an email that Right to Life supporters are “concerned about potential challenges to the law and whether these may result in any lengthy delays from it being in full effect.”
The next step in the fight to stop or pause Indiana’s new abortion law comes Monday, when the first hearing is scheduled for a lawsuit aiming to block the ban.
Two lawsuits challenge the ban: One lawsuit filed in Marion County court last week said that the ban violates Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA. The lawsuit said Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopal and pagan faiths all recognize a right to abortions that would be banned under Indiana law. And in some cases, the suit argued some faith traditions even say abortions should be performed in situations that Indiana will soon outlaw.
Another lawsuit filed in August by the ACLU on behalf of a number of abortion clinics aruges the abortion ban violates Indiana’s constitution by including vague language regarding the risk to the health or life of a pregnant person and by limiting legal abortions to hospitals and surgical centers owned by hospitals only.
WFYI’s Darian Benson, Farah Yousry and Katrina Pross contributed to this story.