Gov. Mike Pence made Indiana the second state in the nation to ban abortions sought because the fetus has a disability, signing into law Thursday an expansion of the state's already restrictive abortion laws.
It's a divisive issue that's once again placed the state at the center of a national debate. And a legal challenge to the law, which takes effect in July, is already in the works. Less than half an hour after Pence signed the measure, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said it plans to request a preliminary injunction to block the new restrictions.
Pence's support was widely anticipated. A social conservative with a long track record of opposing abortion, he described the new restrictions as a “comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.”
“By enacting this legislation, we take an important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother. I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families,” Pence said in a statement.
Pence signed House Enrolled Act 1337 on the deadline day for him to act on proposals sent to his desk by the General Assembly. He did so behind closed doors and without a public-signing ceremony.
It’s the second time in a year that Pence has signed a socially conservative measure that has made national headlines.
The abortion bill signing comes just two days before the one-year anniversary of his private signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That religious objections' measure set off a national firestorm over concerns it would allow discrimination against gay and transgender Hoosiers.
Hackney: Praying for Pence to do what’s right for Indiana
Earlier this year, Pence also sided with religious conservatives in the debate over expanding civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers. Thursday's actions saw the governor again taking a hard conservative line — this time on abortion.
The controversial and potentially unconstitutional measure further restricts abortion in Indiana — already one of the most restrictive states in the nation. It does so by prohibiting a woman from seeking an abortion solely because her fetus could be born with a disability such as Down syndrome. It also restricts a woman from terminating her pregnancy solely because of the gender or race of the fetus.
Social conservative groups, including Indiana Right to Life and the American Family Association of Indiana, had advocated for the new restrictions. Micah Clark, the leader of the family association, has said the measure “protects these special needs children from an intentional abortion based upon their genetics” in an email to supporters.
“Gov. Pence has long been a champion for the unborn and their mothers. By signing the dignity for the unborn bill, Gov. Pence has again signified his commitment to protecting life. We are pleased that our state values life no matter an individual’s potential disability, gender or race," said Mike Fichter, CEO of Indiana Right to Life.
But opponents have sharply criticized the restrictions, saying they only serve to shame women who are seeking out a legal medical procedure and would have a chilling effect in medical conversations between a woman and her doctor. They’ve also questioned how the new restrictions will be enforced, given a woman won't be required to divulge her motivation for seeking an abortion.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said it was "outraged and alarmed" over Pence's decision.
"Pence fails to grasp basic facts when it comes to reproductive health. Education, coupled with access to all reproductive health services, is the most effective method of protecting Hoosiers. It is clear that the governor is more comfortable practicing medicine without a license than behaving as a responsible lawyer, as he picks and chooses which constitutional rights are appropriate," Betty Cockrum, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said in a statement.
Reaction to Indiana's new abortion restrictions
The abortion and women's health provider is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in its plans to file a legal challenge.
A handful of Republican women lawmakers in the Indiana House, who are anti-abortion, have argued the measure was poorly written and not properly vetted.
Indiana currently prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But the new restrictions could limit the procedure earlier in a woman’s pregnancy and before a fetus can survive outside of the womb — calling into question its constitutionality, critics say. The measure also targets certain reasons behind a woman’s decision to receive an abortion.
The expansive law includes other new regulations, such as a requirement for the remains of aborted or miscarried fetuses to be interred or cremated.
John Gregg, the Democrat challenging Pence in the November election, said he would have vetoed the controversial new abortion restrictions his opponent signed into law Thursday.
He called for a truce on social issues, invoking a similar call by former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels while he was in office.
"While I am personally pro-life, this legislation was not well thought out or properly vetted," Gregg said in a statement. "If I was in the legislature, I would have voted against it and, if I were governor today, I would have vetoed it.”
IndyStar reporter Stephanie Wang contributed to this article.
Call IndyStar reporter Chelsea Schneider at (317) 444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @indystarchelsea.