Bloomberg Law
July 29, 2022, 8:33 PM

Rape Exception Divides Indiana Republicans in Abortion Debate

Alex Ebert
Alex Ebert
Staff Correspondent

Republican lawmakers in Indiana—the state where a 10-year-old victim recently traveled to end a pregnancy—are struggling to advance an abortion ban because they can’t agree whether to allow exceptions for rape.

With roughly two weeks left in a special session, state Senate leaders postponed a planned Friday vote because factions of the GOP, which has supermajority control, are refusing to compromise on whether to allow some abortions under limited circumstances.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said the party would try to come up with an agreement, perhaps by Saturday.

The stalemate came as legislators in both Indiana and West Virginia raced to enact new restrictions following the US Supreme Court ruling that ended a federal right to abortion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.

Young Victims

As currently written, the Indiana legislation (S.B. 1) would limit legal abortions to those who would otherwise suffer “substantial permanent impairment” and to victims of rape or incest with early-stage pregnancies. Victims older than 16 could get abortions up to eight weeks’ gestation and younger victims could receive abortions up to the 12-week point.

No current state abortion law differentiates between older and younger rape victims, according to Elizabeth Nash, the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute’s principle policy associate for state issues.

The rape exception generated hours of debate in the Indiana Capitol, with an amendment to strip it from the bill ultimately failing.

“Exceptions equal death,” state Sen. Michael Young (R) said during floor debate Thursday. He compared ending exceptions for rape and incest to President Abraham Lincoln emancipating slaves, and to the actions of the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence.

State Sen. Ron Alting (R) asked his colleagues to moderate their positions, saying that as a widower raising a daughter alone, he worries about what would happen if his child was assaulted.

“I’m afraid to death of something like this,” he said. “We’re all equal; you can be of faith and vote against this.”

The case of the 10-year-old taken to Indiana because of Ohio’s abortion laws has been part of the debate, too.

“I think it’s extremely unfair to women who have been raped, sexually assaulted,” state Sen. Vaneta Becker (R) said. “The 10-year-old child that came from Ohio, she came to get an abortion and she should never have to carry that child.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether he’d sign the bill.

West Virginia

Lawmakers in West Virginia, meanwhile, were preparing for a vote on final passage of a bill (H.B. 302) that would ban and criminalize abortion, allowing pregnacies to be terminated only in cases of rape or incest that are reported to police.

Providing an abortion would become a felony publishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Meanwhile, a court on Friday ordered the revival of Louisiana’s abortion ban, which had been put on hold while a lawsuit is considered.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Madison, Wisconsin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at