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More abortion limits in Indiana may pit lawmakers against prosecutors

More than 100 abortion-rights demonstrators hold placards as they march past the Monroe County Courthouse during a protest before the Fourth of July Parade in Bloomington, Indiana, on July 4, 2022. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(WISH) — Democrat county prosecutors are giving their opinions on how they’d handle criminal cases if Indiana’s supermajority of Republican lawmakers ban or further limit abortions later this month.

A special session of the General Assembly began Wednesday, but the GOP legislators say they won’t meet formally in Indianapolis until July 25. That special session is expected to last several weeks and involve public hearings, Republican leaders say. In addition to addressing inflation’s impact on Hoosiers, the lawmakers are also expected to take steps to restrict abortions.

U.S. state lawmakers gained permission to take added limits after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling June 24 overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The decision held that U.S. women had a fundamental right to choose whether to have abortions without excessive government restriction. At least five states — Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas — have abortion bans in place since the Supreme Court’s ruling. As of Wednesday, Kentucky’s ban was the only one that’s currently under a temporary block awaiting a state court ruling.

News 8 asked the Lake and Monroe county prosecutors on Thursday how they would prosecute criminal cases if state lawmakers further limit or ban abortions.

Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant, who described herself as “unequivocally pro-choice,” said in a statement that “she cannot legally or ethically proclaim a blanket refusal to prosecute a particular crime because that is, in essence, passing legislation.”

Oliphant also said in the statement that she “believes that making a pledge or commitment to refuse to prosecute whatever law is ultimately passed in Indiana will increase the likelihood that criminal penalties will be considered by the General Assembly, and further, it may renew legislators’ interest in a non-compliant prosecutor bill which would allow the Indiana Attorney General to step in and prosecute cases when a local prosecutor has declined to do so.”

She pleaded with state legislators to ensure safe, legal and accessible abortions. “Criminalizing abortion does not end abortion, but it drives the procedure underground.”

Oliphant’s statement also said, “Monroe County will continue to focus resources on those violent and repeat offenses that create the greatest risk of personal safety to members of the community.”

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter told News 8 in a statement, “We will examine each case individually based on the merits of said case. Furthermore, we will evaluate each case based on the law, which is enacted by Indiana General Assembly.”

Carter also said in the statement that Oliphant “cannot legally or ethically proclaim a blanket refusal to prosecute a particular crime, as she has sworn to support the state constitution.”

Lake County is Indiana’s second-largest county after Marion County.

Hours after the June court’s ruling, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said if state lawmakers make abortion illegal in Indiana, he will not file criminal charges against doctors or patients because of it. He said was going to concentrate on violent crime, and the locking up of doctors and nurses for what he calls a health care decision would not serve Marion County well.

Currently, Indiana has restrictions on abortion. According to the New York City-based Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy nongovernmental organization, these are Indiana’s limits on abortion:

  • A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 18 hours before procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility.
  • Private insurance policies cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or if the woman’s health is severely compromised, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost.
  • Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, severely compromised physical health, or in cases of rape or incest.
  • Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, or severely compromised health, unless an individual purchases an optional rider at an additional cost.
  • The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited and medication abortion cannot be administered after 10 weeks of pregnancy.
  • xxxx The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest, or when the procedure is necessary to prevent long-lasting damage to the patient’s physical health.
  • A patient must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer the patient the option to view the image.
  • An abortion may be performed at 20 or more weeks postfertilization (22 weeks after the last menstrual period) only in cases of life or severely compromised physical health. This law is based on the assertion, which is inconsistent with scientific evidence and has been rejected by the medical community, that a fetus can feel pain at that point in pregnancy.
  • The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment and staffing.

The state’s top prosecutor, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, last week told News 8 that he would support a total ban on abortion in Indiana, one that does not include exceptions. It’s a stance the former state lawmaker and Indiana secretary of state has expressed even before he was elected in November 2020 as attorney general.