Ignoring Kansas vote, Indiana bans almost all abortion
Indiana's new abortion ban also threatens doctors' licenses and sets up a Republican-stacked panel to take on prosecutors who refuse to prosecute abortions. And: Florida and Tennessee news.
I said that news might not slow down this August.
Obviously, the big national news of the weekend is the Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on a party-line 51-50 vote on Sunday, Aug. 7.
But, across the states this past week, there were a number of key developments — including, in Indiana, the first abortion ban passed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — that will lead to continued fallout moving forward.
And, Monday is just getting underway.
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KANSAS AND THE POST-ROE VOTING LANDSCAPE: On Aug. 2, Kansas voters sent a strong message about the possible political fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe, soundly rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to restrict abortion rights. The Dobbs decision loomed large in the vote. As the Post detailed:
Voter registration surged, particularly among women, after the leak of the Dobbs decision and its release. Money from outside the state poured in to match the already well-funded “Value Them Both” organization. And “vote no” signs — which had been quite rare in most neighborhoods — became as ubiquitous as “Value Them Both” signs.
By time Election Day came around, the amendment was rejected by a majority of voters in all of Kansas’s four congressional districts (three of which had voted strongly for Trump’s re-election), as calculated by Stephen Wolf.
INDIANA IGNORES KANSAS: On Friday, Aug. 5, Indiana’s Republican-majority legislature, along with its Republican governor, decided that the Kansas vote shouldn’t alter their post-Dobbs plans, and the lawmakers passed and Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a complete ban on abortion at all times during pregnancy, with few exceptions.
The exceptions are for rape and incest in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, if “the fetus is diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly” in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and if the life of or a serious health risk (narrowly defined) to the “pregnant woman,” per the law, is at issue.
The law, passed in a special session, goes into effect Sept. 15. I reviewed the new law over the weekend. Here are some first — though by no means complete — thoughts about the law.
The 45-page bill, which lays out the particulars of those exceptions to the new ban in Sec. 21, is a dramatic visualization of some of the ways a conservative state with a Republican “trifecta” — controlling both the governorship and both legislative chambers — believes it is free to legislate against abortion after Dobbs.
To perform an abortion under any of the exceptions — the only ways a legal abortion will take place in Indiana as of Sept. 15 — the physician must certify to the hospital or center where the abortion is being performed that the circumstance to invoke the exception are met and give “all facts and reasons supporting the certification … in writing.” Before the new law, this sort of certification was only required in Indiana for certain abortions being performed to save the life of or prevent serious health risks to the pregnant person.
In a particularly jarring move (see, for example, Sections 8 and 9), the lawmakers, quite literally, simply went through and eliminated abortion clinics — striking out their mention throughout the Indiana Code.
There are many sections like that throughout the bill. Under the law, as of mid-September, abortion clinics will no longer exist in the state of Indiana.
The law maintains the level of felony criminal penalties for performing illegal abortions under state law (see Section 28), but, in effect, significantly expands their reach due to the much broader scope of the new abortion ban.
The law adds, under certain circumstances, mandatory medical license revocation physicians who perform illegal abortions (see Section 41).
The law also creates a prosecutorial oversight task force (see Section 53) to “study the circumstances in which a county prosecutor makes a blanket refusal to enforce a specific statute or constitutional provision” — as in, when a prosecutor says they’re not going to prosecute people for, for example, seeking or providing an abortion.
The 11-person task force is heavily stacked in favor of the Republicans: A full majority, six, of the members are to be selected by the Republican legislative leaders. A grand total of two are to be be selected by Democratic leaders. The remaining three come from the prosecutors, public defenders, and judges’ organizations in the state.
The stacked task force is directed to make recommendations to the legislature by Dec. 1 of the “appropriate method” of “enforcing the statute or constitutional provision” not being enforced. The law gives the task force possible methods to consider, including giving the attorney general or another local prosecutor the ability to step in and prosecute the cases instead.
Although neither he nor abortion are named in this provision, one Indiana prosecutor, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears (the county that includes Indianapolis), joined a statement issued after the Dobbs decision affirming that he would “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”
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WHICH BRINGS US TO FLORIDA: On Aug. 4, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended a locally elected prosecutor, State Attorney Andrew Warren, in part because he had joined that statement. DeSantis also based his action on Warren having joined a similar joint statement in 2021 regarding anti-transgender laws and due to office policies setting a presumption against prosecuting certain behaviors. DeSantis’s action was not, however, referring to any specific case.
Nonetheless, DeSantis invoked the state’s constitution to suspend the elected Democrat and replace him with Susan Lopez — who he had just appointed to a judgeship in 2021. I wrote about the extraordinary step of removing a prosecutor for Bolts.
Stepping back, this was just one of several mounting, troubling steps from DeSantis this past week. DeSantis is a right-wing extremist with apparently authoritarian aims who is unafraid to act and has a legislature that seems to be largely supportive of him and his aims. The results of all of that are steps like the Warren suspension and these:
DeSantis on Aug. 5 announced a state Supreme Court nominee: Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Renatha Francis. As the Tampa Bay Times put it, “Francis was nominated in 2020, but was deemed then to be unqualified” due to having been a Florida lawyer for fewer than 10 years at the time — a Florida requirement for the role. The move doesn’t change the balance of the court, as all members were appointed by Republican governors. (Francis would replace a justice appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott.) She would, however, increase DeSantis’s mark on the state’s high court: Francis would be his fourth appointment to the seven-justice court.
The DeSantis administration also successfully pushed the state’s Board of Medicine to move forward on Aug. 5 with rulemaking that, if DeSantis continues to get his way, could bar transgender health care for children and even make it harder to get for adults. No rule changes are effective now, but the board cut off public comment early to vote to proceed with the anti-trans rulemaking requested by the DeSantis administration. Florida Politics reported that the sole board member to vote against the rulemaking, Kevin Cairns, “noted that the proposed language that Department of Health General Counsel John Wilson submitted for consideration all but denies health care to transgender children.”
SHELBY COUNTY CHANGES THE NARRATIVE, IF YOU’RE LISTENING: Finally, in the midst of everything else, elections were held in Tennessee on Aug. 4. From Bolts’s Daniel Nichanian: “Voters in Shelby County swept away a slate of tough-on-crime officials on Thursday, ushering in a new era for criminal justice in Tennessee’s most populous county, home to Memphis.”
As Fordham Law professor John Pfaff noted — in criticizing the distinction in coverage between the San Francisco district attorney recall election and the Shelby County district attorney’s race — as the election results were becoming clear:
More from Nichanian:
Shelby County has been notorious for punitive practices that leave people languishing in jail for years without a conviction and fuel harsh youth prosecution, largely against Black residents. Local advocates have fought for years to change the system. The county was under federal monitoring by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the rights of Black children between 2012 and 2018. In 2018, a DOJ report found continued violations and discrimination in juvenile courts, and characterized the policies of the district attorney’s office as a “toxic combination for African-American youth.”
The local officials who oversaw that system, District Attorney Amy Weirich and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, were both ousted on Thursday. The winners, Steve Mulroy in the DA race and Tarik Sugarmon in the juvenile judge race, ran on reform agendas and secured eight-year terms.
Read the whole story.
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