INDIANAPOLIS — Republican legislative leaders are defending the somewhat unusual process they used to advance to the governor's desk a controversial measure banning abortion in cases of fetal genetic abnormality or nonlethal physical deformity.
The final language of House Enrolled Act 1337 was neither reviewed by a House committee, nor eligible for public testimony, after it was rewritten by the Senate to require women give birth if they know their baby will be disabled.
Instead, state Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, persuaded the House to concur with the Senate version of the legislation, despite the House Public Policy Committee, led by state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, refusing last month to consider the abortion restrictions when they were included in Senate Bill 313.
While Statehouse rules permit the proposal to still pass under those circumstances, even several representatives who oppose abortion said the end-run around independent House review made it impossible for them to support the measure.
State Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, said her southwestern Indiana district includes 34,226 women, the state is 51 percent female and though women comprise only 22 percent of the House, their voices deserve to be heard.
"None of these women got a chance to weigh in on this bill," Sullivan said. "I feel my constituents are worthy of their input in the process."
State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, agreed. He said especially on an issue like this, the outcome should not be determined by "a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting in this room making decisions for what we think is best for women."
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, sees things differently.
He believes private discussions about the proposal among Republican representatives were sufficient to justify the 60-40 vote that sent the proposal to Republican Gov. Mike Pence for his signature or veto.
"We're not making determinations about women's health. We're trying to protect the rights of the unborn who cannot speak for themselves," Bosma said.
"Those unborn children are Hoosiers, they have constitutional rights and that's what I voted to protect.
"If this could save a life, it was worth the vote."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the 35 of 50 senators who supported the legislation agreed the policy was more important than any procedural niceties.
"There was public discussion, but it was over here in the Senate. That happens," Long said.
"They (the House) had the ability to do what they wanted with that bill. We sent it over. We said we think this ought to happen, be part of the overall dialogue, so that's how it worked."
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, condemned both the policy and process as "a last minute, out-of-the-blue attack on women's reproductive rights.
"It was an attack on women who are enduring grief, who are enduring tragedy, and those types of things have to stop in these two chambers," Pelath said.
"The gratification of a narrow group of social conservatives is not enough reason to drag the state into those things."
The governor has not definitively said whether he will sign the measure into law. He has seven days to decide once the document is presented to him, likely before the end of the month.
"That bill changed a lot in the legislative process, and I haven't had an opportunity to really examine that in a thoughtful way," Pence said.
"I do bring my belief in the sanctity of life to that, and that will inform the way that I evaluate that ultimately."