News and Tribune

February 4, 2013

HOWEY: Pro-life movement an Indiana political juggernaut

By BRIAN HOWEY
Indiana columnist

— In the past 40 years there have been 55 million abortions in the United States. With Indiana at 2.1 percent of the U.S. people, the math produces a startling statistic: Approximately 1 million Hoosiers didn’t make it into the population.

“We’ve screwed up the population pyramid,” observed Curt Smith, who heads the Indiana Family Institute. “Forty years later, we do not have the adult work force to make the system work. The Social Security system would be different. There’s probably been a million Hoosiers aborted. We’d have 14 percent more population and they’d be coming into their peak earning years and peak productivity.”

It’s not the first time the post-Roe v. Wade demographics have been probed to explain a social phenomenon. In the mid-1990s after crack cocaine spiked violent crime rates in major U.S. cities, the statistics rolled off the table. Crime took a deep dive and some demographers pointed to the fact that scores of babies in single parent and lower economic classes were never born.

In the four decades of Roe vs. Wade, Indiana has been impacted not only in a demographic sense, but politically as well.

Gov. Mike Pence’s new administration is the most overtly pro-life in the state’s history. The Republican supermajorities of the Indiana General Assembly are overwhelmingly pro-life. Of the 125 legislators on the ballot in 2012, Indiana Right to Life endorsed 75 of the eventual winners. The 10-3 Republican advantage in the congressional delegation found Right to Life endorsing nine of them, excluding U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who is pro-life.

Sen. Donnelly continues a trend of Indiana’s U.S. senators, all of whom have been pro-life since Birch Bayh’s defeat in 1980 by Dan Quayle.

Essentially, a pro-choice Republican stands little chance of being nominated or elected to anything above the municipal level since Gov. Robert D. Orr, a member of Planned Parenthood, left office in 1988.

If there is a political flaw in the pro-life juggernaut, it’s that the leadership is male dominated, which makes some pro-life women nervous.

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, who emerged as Dan Quayle’s 4th CD district director in 1981 — eight years after Roe vs. Wade — sees abortion more of a personal decision than a political one. “In the 1980 election it became one of the two or three key issues,” Coats said. “There was still a lot of reaction to Roe v. Wade and a lot of effort by a lot of organizations, groups and constituents to try and bring forth a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. There have been several attempts at that. While the issue of life has been an important one, there’s been a realization that the public cannot garner the two-thirds necessary to enact a constitutional amendment. So there’s been a shift away from the federal level back to the states.”

Coats cited the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case — Planned Parenthood vs. Casey — that gave states the right to regulate access to abortion as a catalyst for the issue to become important in gubernatorial and legislative races. “It really shifted the issue more to state legislatures,” he said.

This pro-life dominance in Indiana politics comes despite polling that shows a majority favoring the Roe vs. Wade status quo. In a December issues survey for Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, 52.2 percent agreed that abortion should be legal in all (22 percent) or most (30.2 percent) of the time. Another 40.5 percent responded that abortion should be illegal in all (15.4 percent) or most (25.1 percent) of the cases.

Two national surveys released in the past week mirror that of the Bowen Center. Pew Research showed that 63 percent do not want to see Roe. V. Wade overturned. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, seven in 10 said Roe v. Wade should stand, “the highest level of support” since the issue was tracked beginning in 1989.

Smith describes the “Reagan Revolution” election of 1980 as a critical period for the pro-life political movement in Indiana. That was the era when the Protestant-based Citizens for Life merged with the Catholic-based Right to Life, with the Indiana Family Institute brokering the merger. “To me, the difference was the Catholics and the evangelicals started finding common interests,” Smith said.

In this session of the Indiana General Assembly there are at least nine bills dealing with abortion, ranging from banning abortions based on race, sex or physical soundness of a fetus, requiring information packets featuring photographs of fetuses in various developmental stages, to be presented to those seeking the procedure, and stopping IU Health from providing abortions.

Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen told Indiana Public Media the bills are “hacking away at the availability of abortion services.”

The Indiana Family Institute’s Smith acknowledges and embraces the tactic. “I think we’re pushing the envelope here,” he said. “The courts have constricted the last step. Clearly technology is showing us there’s life in the womb. There’s a capacity to see the baby, the fetus, in great detail. It’s alive, it’s smiling, its heart is beating. We are doing surgeries on babies in the womb. And we are aborting babies in the womb.”

“I’m very proud of our legislators,” Smith said. “They are testing the limits.”

— The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol