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Why weren't abortion restrictions decided by a ballot question in Indiana?

The west side of the Indiana Statehouse at night, seen mostly through a large, semi-circular sculpture on the Statehouse grounds. The building is lit by exterior lights. The sculpture is an almost complete ring coming up from the ground. The base is concrete. More than half the circle is metal, with lights running along the interior of the metal portion of the circle. Many people have compared it to a Stargate from the popular sci-fi franchise "Stargate."
Brandon Smith
/
IPB News
Ballot questions (other than school funding referendums) are fairly rare in Indiana.

Indiana’s abortion ban is now law, set to take effect Sept. 15. But a lot of Hoosiers want to know why there’s not a public question about abortion on the ballot this November – especially after a high-profile Kansas referendum last week.

Ballot questions (other than school funding referendums) are fairly rare in Indiana. There is no legal avenue for what's known as a "citizen-led" initiative – for instance, gathering enough signatures to put a question on the ballot.

Still, there’s nothing in state law stopping legislators from creating one on abortion. But House and Senate Republicans rejected efforts from Democrats to do so.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) explained that crafting such a question is difficult.

“Could you say – should abortion be legal? Should it be legal for the first trimester?" Bray said. "Should abortion be illegal with exception of the life of the mother, or the life and health of the mother, or the life and health of the mother and rape and incest? And if you say rape and incest or life of the mother, how do you define life of the mother?”

READ MORE: Indiana's near-total abortion ban is now law, takes effect Sept. 15

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) had a simpler explanation for why Republicans rejected putting a question on the ballot.

“They don’t want to hear from Hoosiers across the state of Indiana who know that bodily autonomy is just the first step in taking away some of our constitutional rights,” Taylor said.

Republicans also pointed out that it’s largely too late to put a question on the ballot this year – many counties have already begun printing their ballots for the November election.

This story came from a listener question through the Indiana Two-Way. Do you have a question about the new abortion law? Join our weekly text group by texting "Indiana" to 73224

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.