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Indiana Republicans reaffirm commitment to man-woman marriage as preferred family structure for Hoosiers

Hoosier Republican delegates recite the Pledge of Allegiance on Saturday to start the party's biennial state convention at the Ford Center in Evansville.

INDIANAPOLIS — A national effort by abortion opponents to effectively ban the procedure by establishing the independent personhood of a fetus, from the moment of conception, has the full backing of the Indiana Republican Party.

Delegates to Saturday's state party convention approved without controversy a revised "sanctity of life" platform plank that declares "the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed."

The platform cites the U.S. Constitution's guarantee that no one can "be deprived of life, liberty or property," in conjunction with a  Declaration of Independence provision that holds "all" are "endowed by their Creator" with an inalienable right to life, as the basis for the new sanctity of life language.

While the platform does not go on to specifically address abortion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun noted in his 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, that if fetal personhood ever was established in law, then abortion would be unconstitutional.

That's a significant shift in the Indiana Republican Party's official position on abortion. It also could be interpreted as favoring a ban on many popular types of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.

Past Indiana GOP platforms have held, as the new platform does, that life exists from "conception to natural death."

But, on abortion, the 2016 platform merely copied an Indiana law that states: "Childbirth is preferred, encouraged and supported over abortion."

Delegates demanded change

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said the platform was revised based on the "clear, consistent and universal desire on the part of Hoosier Republicans, who testified at hearings and via email, to see the pro-life language in our platform strengthened."

"The platform committee heard this and captured those voices in the updated language," Hupfer said.

At the same time, state Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, co-chairman of the Indiana GOP platform committee, noted that the national Republican Party platform takes an even stronger position, calling for a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution "to make clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to children before birth."

"Like any other topic, you'll have folks who fall in all different areas of that spectrum, but the folks we heard from were pretty adamant that they believe that life begins at conception," Crider said.

There was no floor debate at the GOP convention over the revised sanctity of life plank, in contrast to the successful push by marriage equality opponents to retain a platform provision declaring that strong families ought to be "based on marriage between a man and a woman."

The notion of fetal personhood goes against nearly a half-century of American legal precedent that sets viability, the point at which a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, or roughly 24 weeks gestation, as the basis for the government having an interest in preserving potential life.

Prior to viability, federal courts repeatedly have held that states cannot infringe on a woman's right to abortion. Though states can impose safety or "informed consent" regulations on the procedure so long as they do not create an "undue burden" on abortion access.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb did not respond to a request for comment on the platform change.

He routinely describes himself as "pro-life." Though Holcomb insists that conservative social issues are not the same top priority for him compared to his predecessor, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Nevertheless, on Holcomb's watch, Indiana Republicans now have an anti-abortion platform plank that goes further than Pence ever managed to include in the party's nonbinding statement of principles during his four years as governor.

Holcomb also has enacted laws approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly limiting pregnant teens from obtaining an abortion without parental consent, requiring doctors to report to the state all physical and psychological "complications" relating to any abortion a woman ever has had, and allowing criminal charges be brought for causing the injury or death of a fetus from conception, rather than viability.

Advocates react

Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life, applauded Hoosier Republicans for strengthening the party's platform in favor of increased protections for the unborn.

"The new language emphasizes that the party shares the pro-life movement's highest goal of bringing about a day when every unborn child's life is valued by society and protected under the Constitution," Fichter said.

"While it does not identify specific legislation, this gives absolute clarity to the end objective of every strategic action and legislative effort in this area. President Trump's success in transforming the federal courts will play a major role in what legislation will be introduced."

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, which operates four Indiana abortion clinics including a Merrillville location, said the Republican platform change will not alter its mission to serve Hoosiers.

"As a health care provider, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky offers high quality health care without judgment, regardless of religious or political party affiliation," said Ali Slocum, communications and marketing director.

"While the GOP's revised platform is disappointing, it is not unexpected. We will continue to serve patients because our doors stay open, no matter what."

Jane Henegar, executive director of the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union, which routinely challenges the constitutionality new state abortion laws on behalf of Planned Parenthood, said "the ACLU is prepared to continue the fight for women’s reproductive rights as protected by the Constitution."

"The law of the land in the United States protects a woman's ability to control her body and health care decisions consistent with what is best for her and her family," Henegar said.

See the various measures Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed into law

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.