Medication Abortion Bill Heads to Gov. Pence—Is He Ready to Govern as a Fiscal Conservative?


Now that the Indiana legislature has passed a new abortion bill intended to end safe abortion access in western Indiana, Republican Gov. Mike Pence stands at a crossroads in his political career. Since winning the governor’s race in 2012, he has tried to make Indiana’s economic climate his only issue. Will that focus continue now that he’s faced with signing an abortion bill that would play to social conservatives but could cost the state money in the long run because of costs related to unintended pregnancies?

Pence is still something of a mystery to many of the residents he now represents. A longtime congressman who was seen as being part of the most extreme right wing of the Republican party, especially on social issues, Pence avoided making those views a focus of his 2012 gubernatorial race. This garnered him a narrow win, while equally socially conservative Senate candidate Richard Mourdock lost what was believed to be an easy race.

Now that SB 371 is headed to his desk for signature, Pence will have to make a choice. Will he continue to position himself as the “moderate” governor who represents many of the views of Indiana citizens, like he did when he was on the campaign trail? Or will he again focus on the divisive “social” issues that Hoosiers rejected when they refused to vote for Mourdock?

Despite the insistence of the state house chair, the bill to stop the Lafayette Planned Parenthood from offering medication abortions really represents an economic issue. The GOP-dominated house rejected votes on amendments that would make continuing unwanted pregnancies less of an economic hardship. But that doesn’t mean the state will be able to avoid the inevitable medical and other costs that come about when safe abortion access is cut off and adults and teens, many of whom are already struggling financially, are forced to give birth.

It’s not lost on reproductive rights supporters that state legislators have veered far from their campaign promises of “jobs, jobs jobs.” “Nearly every one of our legislators claimed they’d be focusing their efforts this session on growing jobs and our economy,” Indiana Planned Parenthood President and CEO Betty Cockrum said in a statement. “Yet, this extremist legislature took aim at our non-profit and our patients—men and women who often otherwise go without care.”

The question remains whether Gov. Pence will follow the lead of the other Republican politicians and sign into law an abortion restriction that goes against the economic interests of his state and its residents. As the JCOnline.com editorial board notes, while anti-choice activists claim the bill is a necessary legislative move to protect women’s health, it is in actuality a direct assault on Planned Parenthood. And it’s unlikely to be the only one: “If SB 371 was, in fact, about getting at the cause of unwanted pregnancy, it would have included information about contraceptives available at Planned Parenthood along with the informed consent forms—which now will need to be in color, per the house version of SB 371—patients must get before having an abortion or taking RU-486. The house rejected that amendment on Monday. No matter how hard SB 371’s sponsors protest otherwise, this is a surgical strike …. [J]udging on momentum building in the General Assembly, don’t expect SB 371 to be the last shot at Planned Parenthood.”

Pence has been a formidable foot soldier in the war against Planned Parenthood during his national legislative career. While in Congress, he attempted to defund Planned Parenthood federally, despite the fact that the Title X funding Planned Parenthood receives is not used to fund abortion care. As he told Politico in a 2011 interview, “If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions. As long as they aspire to do that, I’ll be after them …. What’s clear to me, if you follow the money, you can actually take the funding supports out of abortion. We then have a much better opportunity to move forward to be a society that says yes to life.”

Pence, who has often referred to himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” was an active supporter of the anti-choice movement while in Congress, especially during March for Life. In 2011, he released a statement to marchers urging them to focus even harder on eliminating the right to choose. “These are trying times in the life of this nation,” said Pence. “Our economy is struggling and our national government is awash in a sea of debt. Amidst these struggles, some would have us focus our energies on jobs and spending. We must not remain silent when great moral battles are being waged. Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life have forgotten the lessons of history. As in the days of a house divided, America’s darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles. A nation that will not stand for life will not stand for long. You know there can be no lasting prosperity without a moral foundation in law.”

Pence distanced himself from his social-issues crusade when he began his run for the governor’s office in 2012, leaving abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and other divisive issues out of his campaign stump speeches and “roadmap.” He vowed to concentrate on strengthening Indiana’s economic well-being, although his continued refusal to buy into federal Medicaid expansion showed his reticence to completely disconnect from his past, even if it was in the best interest of Hoosiers. In February, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette wrote:

Pence, in communication with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, instead has asked that Indiana be permitted to use the Healthy Indiana Program to serve an expanded Medicaid population.

Pence said the federal program is “rife with waste and fraud.” Indiana’s plan has a 98 percent approval rating from participants, and it encourages wellness and healthy behavior.

The Healthy Indiana Program may, indeed, be promising, but it’s too little, too late. It covers just 40,000 Hoosiers, with 46,000 more on the waiting list. The pool of Indiana residents eligible for coverage under the federal Medicaid expansion – up to 138 percent of the poverty line – is 400,000, most of them working-class Hoosiers whose employers don’t provide health care coverage or offer insufficient policies.

As IU’s Carroll notes, the decision is not between giving vulnerable residents a choice between Medicaid and private health insurance – it’s between giving them Medicaid and nothing.

Will the new, more “moderate” Gov. Pence veto SB 371 and allow Planned Parenthood of Lafayette to continue to provide abortions to individuals in the area who can’t travel to other locations in the state? Or will the former congressman return to his old ways and sign on with the ideological social-issues agenda of conservative cohorts, even at added expense to the state and to the detriment of financially struggling women in western Indiana? If he does sign, Pence may feel the wrath of the majority of Hoosiers who support keeping abortion safe and legal when he seeks re-election.

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