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Experts: Businesses have some leverage in abortion debate

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Experts and a state lawmaker on Monday said two of Indiana’s largest employers can best make good on their statements against an abortion ban if they follow through.

Eli Lilly & Co. and Cummins released statements on Saturday criticizing the abortion ban lawmakers approved and Gov. Eric Holcomb signed late the previous night. Lilly said it has expanded its employee health plan to include travel for abortion services. Cummins said it, too, would continue to cover reproductive health care, though company leaders did not indicate if they would cover travel.

Ball State economist Prof. Michael Hicks said corporations typically have the most political leverage when it comes to policy that directly relates to business, such as taxes and regulations. He said their influence is more limited when it comes to social issues such as abortion. However, Hicks said businesses can still respond to social policy decisions through their hiring and location decisions.

“I think it’s almost certain that business in Indiana is going to slow its hiring here. The type of law that Indiana just passed is deeply unpopular among the 18 to 30 year old crowd,” he said. “And that means hiring new employees, several hundred a year, is going to be very difficult.”

Rep. Maureen Bauer, D-South Bend, said Republican lawmakers should take Lilly’s statement in particular as a sign they’ve gone too far.

“We have to understand that there are consequences to the bills and the policies that we pass in that chamber and I don’t think that that message has been received by the Republican supermajority,” she said. “I think we’re just seeing a lot of built-up frustration from the business community.”

Asked whether they thought Lilly and Cummins’ statements were too little, too late, both Hicks and Bauer said the special session was so rushed, they doubted it would have made much difference if those statements had come out earlier. Prof. Nick Browning, a professor of public relations at the IU Media School, said he wasn’t so sure. He said corporations typically have more impact the earlier they get out in front of an issue. In addition, he said statements tend to pack more of a punch if the company follows up with concrete action.

“So with Eli Lilly, the offer to pay employees’ travel expenses is that element, and then with Cummins, they make a very direct statement that they support access to abortion,” he said. “That sincerity helps with the messaging.”

Spokespeople for House and Senate Republican leadership and Gov. Eric Holcomb were unable to provide comment for this story before deadline. Lilly and Cummins both turned down requests for further comment.