INDIANAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law Thursday making Indiana the second state to ban abortions because of fetal genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome.
Pence signed the measure just hours ahead of his deadline to take action on the proposal approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature two weeks ago, the governor’s office said. It is due to take effect in July, but Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky said it will ask a court to block the measure before that can happen.
“It is clear that the governor is more comfortable practicing medicine without a license than behaving as a responsible lawyer, as he picks and chooses which constitutional rights are appropriate,” the group’s head, Betty Cockrum, said in a statement.
Pence called the bill “a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.”
“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn,” he said in a statement.
In addition to banning abortions due to fetal genetic abnormalities, the law will prohibit abortions done because of a fetus’s race, sex, or ancestry and mandates that the only way to dispose of an aborted fetus is through burial or cremation.
The bill has been criticized by a national group of gynecologists and several female Republican members of the GOP-dominated Indiana Legislature, who say it goes too far in telling women what they can and can’t do.
“We know that you’re going to be forcing woman and families to suffer emotionally because they’re going to be force to carry pregnancies that are not viable,” said Kate Connors, director of communications for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which recently wrote to Pence urging him to defeat the bill. “We’ve been hoping that the resounding chorus of voices would hit home. It obviously did not.”
Pence was a prominent abortion rights opponent while serving in Congress before being elected governor in 2012 and received perfect scores from Indiana Right to Life for his record of opposing abortion.
“By signing the dignity for the unborn bill, Gov. Pence has again signified his commitment to protecting life,” Mike Fichter, president of IRL, said in a statement. “We are pleased that our state values life no matter an individual’s potential disability, gender or race.”
Pence is also facing a tough re-election campaign in a rematch against Democrat John Gregg and will be counting on a strong turnout from his evangelical base in November. Gregg said Thursday he would have vetoed the measure.
“Like so many other polices put forth by Mike Pence and the Republican Legislature, this does nothing but further damage our state’s reputation and divide our people,” Gregg said.
It is unclear what impact, if any, the restrictions will actually have on abortions, as women could cite other reasons — or not give any — for seeking an abortion. Under the measure, doctors who perform forbidden abortions could be sued for wrongful death or face discipline from the state medical licensing board. Women receiving such abortions wouldn’t face punishment.
Critics say the measure would require pregnant women to endure complicated pregnancies that pose a danger to their health and would lead women to not speak candidly with their doctors.
North Dakota adopted similar restrictions under a 2013 law approved by that state’s Republican-led Legislature.
Critics in Indiana question whether the measure is constitutional, and even GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma said he expects a court challenge if Pence signs the bill into law. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights backed a lawsuit challenging the North Dakota law, but it went unresolved because the Fargo clinic decided instead to focus its fight on another abortion ban.
— Aric Chokey and Tom Davies