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

By Brandon Smith, IPB News | Published on in Government, Health, Politics
Ballot questions (other than school funding referendums) are fairly rare in Indiana. (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

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.