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Two sides of abortion battle face off at Indiana Statehouse

Eric Weddle/WFYI
Thousands of people came to the Indiana Statehouse on Saturday, June 25, 2022 to advocate for abortion rights. Others also supported the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end the constitutional protections for abortion. Two 28-year-olds, Melissa Eleonora Mena-Schneller, right, and Austin, left, debate whether a woman should have the choice to end a pregnancy.

Hoosiers on both sides of the abortion fight collided at the Indiana capital Saturday.

Thousands of people protested the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional protections for abortion. Others voiced support for Indiana lawmakers to ban the procedure during next months’s special legislative session.

From the steps of the statehouse, speakers from American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Planned Parenthood and Women4Change called on the crowd of a few thousand to fight back against the ruling and find ways to support women who could soon be impacted.

"We win when we show up," Jane Henegar, ACLU Executive Director, said. "When we stand up for our rights and the rights of others."

The speakers reminded those in attendance that abortion is still legal in Indiana.

"I'm worried that because of the Supreme Court decision that people have already stopped thinking that they have that right here in Indiana which they absolutely do until the legislature says otherwise," said Katie Blair, ACLU public policy director.

Indiana lawmakers return for a special session July 6 when they could restrict abortion. Planned Parenthood State Director LaKimba DeSadier called on the thousands of pro-abortion rights protestors to descend on the Statehouse next month when lawmakers appear prepared to ban or restrict abortion.

"I expect to see this whole crowd in this building," DeSadlier said.

(Eric Weddle/WFYI)
Thousands of people came to the Indiana capital on Saturday, June 25, 2022 to advocate for abortion rights. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana organized a protest on the steps of the statehouse.

Lydia Jurgen also expects people to put pressure on lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb -- to ban abortion.

Jurgen, a 68-year-old Indianapolis native, has advocated for a ban since 1986. She attended a prayer rally held on the statehouse lawn.

"I am happy for the county that maybe we can stop the culture of death," she said of ruling. "Maybe we can make it illegal in Indiana."

What comes next?

Both sides arrived at the Statehouse to demand what they want to happen next in Indiana, in wake of the high court’s decision that pushed the issue of how to legislate abortion back to individual states. Many of the protestors were young and came with personal stories.

Chloe Irvin, 18, drove from Crawfordsville. She expressed anxiety for the future.

"It does make me fearful," she said. "It makes me fear for our future and what other rights can be taken away from like LGBT folk or trans people."

Mary Stergar, 70, said her grandmother died from coathanger abortion that she was forced into

"So it's very personal to me," she said.

Right to Life Indianapolis and Stand for Life Indiana held two separate rallies on the Statehouse south lawn. Supporters there want Indiana to join more than 20 other states who will soon or already have made abortion illegal or heavily restricted.

Mark Tuttle, the Indianapolis Right to Life president, is looking forward lawmakers' discussion next month.

"For us to be able to come together as Hoosiers to really talk about these issues find out how best to protect innocent human life as well as be there for the pregnant moms and to support moms in their need," Tuttle said.

(Eric Weddle/WFYI)
Right to Life Indianapolis and Stand for Life Indiana held two separate rallies on the Statehouse south lawn.

Some anti-abortion protestors, like Michael Thornesly, said they support a full ban without exemptions for rape or a mother whose life is at risk.

"I do believe that it should be across the board because even though a woman's life might be at risk there's still a life there that needs to have a chance to live," Thornesly said.

Indianapolis City-County Councilor Ali Brown could have been one of those mothers. She had an emergency c-section and doctors have told her pregnancy is real risk.

"It's really hard when you're one of the people who if I get pregnant again, there's a very good chance I will die,” Brown said. “And to hear the Supreme Court justices say go ahead and die.”

The later Stand for Line rally of about 100 abortion rights opponents was overpowered by abortion rights supporters who marched in as the event began. Speakers were drowned out as chants of “my body, my choice” and “pro-life is a lie” dominated.

Tensions were high as state police formed a line between the crowd and speakers but the event stayed peaceful.

Holcomb this month called for a special legislative session to approve a tax rebate. Friday he said abortion access should be addressed too. Statehouse Republicans have yet to say how far they’ll try to restrict abortion rights and if they'll allow exceptions, such as in cases of rape.

Contact WFYI reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridian@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

WFYI editor Eric Weddle contributed to this report.