Hundreds of anti-abortion protesters, many bused in through local Right to Life groups from towns as far as Crown Point in Northern Indiana, thronged the Indiana Statehouse's North Atrium Tuesday as the second day of the abortion ban special session began.
“Abortion is bad for women. They deserve better,” the protesters at the Love Them Both rally hosted by Right to Life Indiana chanted. “Pro-life, pro-women.”
In a twist to a popular abortion rights chant that goes "They don't care if people die, pro-life is a lie", the anti-abortion protesters yelled, “Pro-choice is a lie. Babies never choose to die.”
Christianity was centerstage at the event, which began and ended with a prayer. Prominent Christian anti-abortion activist Angela Minter held up a red Bible to cheers from the crowd and protesters invoked Jesus Christ in the demand the Indiana lawmakers protect the notion that "life begins at conception."
"Abortion is not the answer to poverty," Minter said at the rally. "Abortion is not the answer to education. Life is the answer. Jesus is the answer."
The overriding message of many protesters was opposition to abortion at any time or for any reason.Protesters and speakers told IndyStar they opposed the Senate Republican’s initial proposed abortion ban, Senate Bill 1, because it is too “weak” and contained“loopholes” to allow for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Within hours of the rally's ending, the Senate committee hearing the bill voted to add criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions that do not fall under any of the exceptions.Indiana Right to Life leaders did not explicitly state if they supported or opposed these exceptions in a July 26 media release, which called the originally proposed bill a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and criticized it for lacking criminal penalties for abortion.
Indiana Right To Life said there were more than 1,200 attendees, based on RSVPs and check-in counts.
The 'total ban' view is a departure from what the majority of Hoosiers believe, according to a survey released in July by the Covid States Project. Most Hoosiers think abortion should be allowed when a person is raped or their life is at risk.
Micah Beckwith, the Noblesville pastor of Life Church Indiana and an anti-abortion activist, opened the rally by pointing out the massive crowd of abortion rights activists who flooded the statehouse Monday.
“It was very demonic. There is nothing good about taking an innocent life,” he said. “We're here today to let the legislators know in the supermajority Republican legislature that they are now expected to do what is right, not in our eyes, but in God’s eyes.
“We have a supermajority which means the legislature can do whatever they want to do. If they are confident, if they have courage like Joshua, we can ban abortion and end this scourge in our state forever," he said, referencing the Biblical figure of Joshua, one of the twelve spies of Israel sent by Moses to conquer the land of Canaan.
Protesting abortion is a family affair for the three Mervar siblings, who live in Fort Wayne. The youngest, 16-year-old Sarah Mervar said she started picketing outside her local Planned Parenthood clinic when she was 14.
“We have to protect life at all ages,” she said. When asked how she arrived at her understanding that life begins at conception, she said, “The Bible.”
Her sister, 21-year-old Katelyn Mervar, donned a “Trump Won” baseball cap and said she started an organization called Stand For Life Today to ban abortion in other states.
“We want to end abortion with no compromise, no exceptions, no regulations because I believe abortion is murder,” she told IndyStar.
Not all Christian protesters at the statehouse were strongly anti-abortion. In fact, at Senate public testimony on Monday, Reverend Gray Lesesne, the Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, argued against Senate Bill 1 and voiced support for abortion access.
"Jesus’ primary commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself," Lesesne said. "And for us, this is all about loving our neighbors to provide them equitable access to equitable health care, and letting God and God’s grace and mercy sort out the rest.”
Protesters: Abortion should not be a choice. 'It's like slavery.'
The speakers repeatedly emphasized they want women to choose life and not abortion, but also said abortion should not be an available choice.
"It's important for you to go and make sure it's not legal so young people know what's right," said Minter at the rally.
According to her company website, she is a born again Christian who founded the anti-abortion Kentucky-based group Sisters for Life.
"It's the same thing with slavery," Minter, who is Black, told IndyStar when asked why women should not even have a choice to have an abortion.
"That shouldn't have been a choice for slaveowners to own a human being.... It's the same thing for us as women.... It's not for us to choose if that baby should live or die."
The idea that abortion is comparable to slavery has drawn considerable outrage, but it is often voiced in anti-abortion circles, including by Ben Carson in 2015 and the analogy has continued to gain traction in the anti-abortion movement.
A majority, or 68%, of U.S. adults who are Black think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, much like adults across other racial and ethnic groups, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said that reproductive freedom is part of the "anti-racist agenda" as family planning, through abortion access and contraceptives,can offer a path out of poverty.
Minter pushed back on that narrative explicitly during the rally.
"Black women can do better than abortion," she told IndyStar. "We're not so poor and pitiful and uneducated that we don't know that we can go and get help and fulfil the plan and purpose God has for us."
Minter said that she had two abortions when she was 17 becauseshe was "trying to live, trying to raise our family."
"It was the most detrimental," she told IndyStar. "The Holy Spirit visited me and said you had an abortion as a teenager you have not asked forgiveness for or repented. As a Christian I did that and received forgiveness."
Doctors against abortion join rally: 'Abortion is not healthcare.'
IU Health Internal medicine doctor Jason Kippenbrock said he disagrees with the abortion rights movement’s oft-repeated message that “abortion is healthcare.”
“Abortion is destruction of a life,” he told IndyStar. “We know that from the moment of fertilization of the egg, an embryo has all genetic material we use to define a human.”
Kippenbrock said he does not speak on behalf of his employer.
He stood alongside three other people in white coats who held signs reading “pro-life medical professionals.”
When asked if he supports abortion when needed to save a woman’s life, Kippenbrock said he does but does not consider such procedures to be abortions. In the case of ectopic pregnancies, he said, "It's not a viable human being. So it's appropriate in those situations to use medications and surgeries to take care of that. That's not abortion."
Protesters demand no exceptions for rape, incest, say resources available to help
A total ban on abortion would mean that people who get pregnant, regardless of whether they were raped, would have to bear that child. But many protesters at the anti-abortion protest Tuesday said they supported a total ban, no exceptions.
"We know women who've been born as the children of rape and to say their life has no value and their grandchildren's life has no value, that's not loving," Rachelle Baker, Vice President of Right to Life Lake County, told IndyStar. "If someone has been raped you should punish the perpetrator, not the child."
The protesters said that women who are struggling during an unplanned pregnancy can get help at pregnancy resource centers or with childcare services.
"We'd like to support the choice (to carry the pregnancy to term)by the pregnancy resource centers by helping women, baby pantries, be able to find work, college women who are having problems be supported in having education and knowing have a child doesn't limit them," said Jean Sangiorgio, 62, of Fishers.
A previous IndyStar investigation into the state of childcare services in Indiana found that Indiana severely lags behind other states. It is in the minority of states that don’t offer state credits for child care for either parents or employers and also is one of 13 states in 2019 that denied additional cash assistance to people who have babies while already receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, according to Pew Research.
According to an Urban Institute analysis of 2016 data published in 2021, which used the most recent data available, Indiana spent the fifth least amount of money per child among all states. In Indiana, the state government spent less than $10,000 per child, while in Vermont, the state that spent the most per child, public spending amounted to $22,000 per child.
One of the bills up for debate in the special session, Senate Bill 2, would create the Hoosier Families First Fund and allocate $45 million to it to support programs for mothers and babies, address barriers to birth control, increase access to childcare, benefit foster and adoptive care and meet the needs of low-income families with young children.
When asked if there are currently enough resources to support pregnant people, Sangiorgio said, "I think we can do more. There is much more available than people realize."
IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange contributed reporting.
Contact IndyStar reporter Ko Lyn Cheang at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-903-7071. Follow her on Twitter: @kolyn_cheang.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana abortion ban: Pro-life Christian protest say no rape exceptions