Dear Governor Pence, I’m Revoking Your ‘Pro-life’ Card

Dear Governor Pence,

I’m writing to revoke your “pro-life” membership following your decision to unnecessarily affix your signature to HEA 1337, the human rights-violating bill that goes into effect July 1 and has made Indiana one of the most dangerous places in the country to be pregnant.

I have to assume that your “pro-life” membership is of the utmost importance to you as HEA 1337 would have become law without your signature — as long as you didn’t wield your veto pen. Your decision in an election year to brandish your signature — rather than passively allow the bill to become law — means that you are both proud of this legislation and the repercussions that belong to you. You had the power to stop what comes next; your failure to do so will most surely result in unnecessary blood on your hands.

Indiana — my home state — was already a scary place to be pregnant. With a 20-week ban, parents discovering that a pregnancy is not viable or that their child would live a very brief, very painful life were without recourse.

Indiana also has the eighth-highest infant mortality rate in the nation: 7.2 per 1,000 live births. As the United States already lags woefully behind every other wealthy nation in infant mortality rate, a state making the list of our country’s top 10 worst shows a marked disregard for life. Preventing newborns from suffering only seems to rank on your priority list when wielding empty platitudes in the hopes of restricting the constitutional right to abortion care. “Pro-life” seems to end for you as a baby takes its first breath; this makes you, more accurately, “pro-birth” rather than “pro-life.”

When you aren’t creating legal hurdles to abortion, one of your biggest priorities has been all but eliminating taxpayer dollars for reproductive health care. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood — which began under your predecessor Mitch Daniels and continued throughout your tenure — led to the shutdown of five rural clinics (none of which provided abortion care) and contributed to an HIV outbreak in Scott County.

People in rural communities rightly fear being tested by a family physician who is likely to know their friends and family. Double that fear for youth and LGBTQ people; compound that fear for queer and trans youth who are already rightly afraid and live without legal protections in a state famous for its hostility toward them.

These groups were already underserved and now they are without health centers known for their affordability, confidentiality, and inclusiveness. You probably aren’t aware, governor, but even cis woman-centrically-titled reproductive-health clinics are typically trans-inclusive — many even offering discounted hormone replacement therapy. They also offer services to all genders, so your funding cuts have not just hurt women-identified individuals, oh no.

A 2011 study — pre-RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) passing your legislature — found that 42% of transgender people in Indiana attempt suicide; that’s 26 times the rate (1.6%) of the general population. Where are they supposed to go for help as they fight for their lives now, governor? Do their lives not matter? Are you not pro-all lives?

The trans suicide rate is not the only alarming statistic I’m watching for as additional hurdles are put in place. The teen suicide rate in your state should be enough to oust you from office this November. Indiana has the highest percentage of teens considering suicide in the country and the second highest attempt rate. Now that you have virtually every kind of TRAP law in place and then some, teens who are pregnant and don’t want to be will quite literally have nowhere to go. Hopelessness and a lack of options factor heavily into people’s decisions to end their lives; you have just amplified the lack of options for an already at-risk population.

I recently spent an entire Saturday afternoon helping someone from the northern part of the state figure out where they could go to terminate a pregnancy. Considering I am from the area, am up-to-date on the current conditions, and spent 15 years living in nearby Chicago — three as a clinic escort — the fact that I needed hours to determine clinic access is extraordinary.

The person I helped ended up having to drive six hours round-trip. How many teens have the freedom to spend an entire day traveling or the money for such a trip, even if they have access to a car? Most clinics require a companion to accompany the patient, so they would have to have an adult they trust or a friend who can also be gone for at least an entire day.

All of these barriers — money, time, travel, information, confidentiality — are exacerbated by an existing law: parental consent and notification. Women’s Med, a reproductive health-care group with a location in Indianapolis, explains your state’s version this way:

“If you are under the age of 18, the State of Indiana’s Parental Consent Law requires one parent must provide written consent before the minor obtains an abortion. One of your parents or legally appointed guardian must accompany you to your Pre-Abortion Visit to provide this consent.”

The only exception is to seek a court order stating, “she is mature enough to make her own decision or that an abortion is in her bests interest.” Considering most youth don’t have regular menstrual cycles or experience with pregnancy symptoms — to say nothing of the fear and stigma we instill in young people about becoming pregnant in the first place — the 20-week ban in your state means there is scarcely enough time to seek a court order. And how many teens know a court order option even exists or how to go about obtaining one?

Neighboring Illinois at least has a due process clause of sorts on their similar law so that the courts can’t simply procrastinate pregnant people into carrying to term. Lorie Chaiten, director of the Reproductive Rights Project for the Illinois ACLU, told Truthout in 2013, “We’re going to continue to see northwest Indiana girls come to Illinois for abortions even now that they’ll have the go through the bypass process because chances are those [Indiana] courts will never rule.”

The situation is about to get even worse.

Only four of the 92 counties in Indiana have clinics at present; I don’t expect all the clinics to meet your new admitting privileges provision by the deadline. Barring legal injunctions, additional closures are likely imminent. The hospitalization-level complication risk for the abortions that are legal in your state is less than 0.05%; even if every emergency room wasn’t ethically and legally required to treat anyone walking in the door, admitting privileges are statistically unnecessary for doctors performing a procedure with less risk than wisdom tooth removal (7%).

You’re 40 times more likely to die from a colonoscopy and 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than from a first trimester abortion procedure. Putting people through unwanted, unnecessary childbirth is a life-threatening and human rights-violating event. Or don’t the already living, pregnant people’s lives matter?

This law has no funding for education or health care; it is entirely penalties. And considering the high-profile cases of women who have been sentenced to decades in prison under the laws that are already in effect, you can’t say you don’t know how your attorneys general and prosecutors will interpret and enforce additional restrictions to reproductive health care.

If somehow you are unable to imagine the effects of these additional punitive provisions, thousands of your constituents have signed — and continue to sign — a petition informing you of the harmful potential of HEA 1337. The petition was delivered to your doorstep, complete with a press conference lead by Indy Feminists more than a week before you decided to sign; you had plenty of time.

You ignored constituents like Victoria Barrett, who stood in front of your legislature to testify against an earlier version and continued to tell her story at the state house and in writing this year. Your own “pro-life” caucus members — Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) and Rep. Sharon Negele — have spoken out against HEA 1337 on the floor and in the press. “The bill does nothing to save innocent lives. There’s no education, there’s no funding. It’s just penalties,” Negele told CBS.

Refusing to listen to reason is nothing new for you, of course. Your anti-choice, anti-health record dates back to your time in the U.S. House — not that most people remember that you’re literally why the government almost shut down in 2011.

I was paying attention two years later when the deal you and your buddies struck to “prevent the shutdown” led to the more famous “debt ceiling” of 2013. You were willing to risk the full faith and credit over 0.00048% ($75 million) — that’s less than one half of one thousandth of a percent — of the $15.6 trillion budget because you can’t bear to see federal dollars go to cancer screenings and contraception. Because you’re so “pro-life.” Of course, by the time the consequences of your “defund Planned Parenthood or else” amendment from 2011 were garnering enough press for most people to hear, you were safely ensconced in the Indiana state house.

I don’t have time for your illegal assault on education in Indiana, governor, but I do encourage people to read about how you weren’t fond of the democratically elected state superintendent Glenda Ritz and so created a board out of whole cloth to circumvent her. While you were forced to dissolve the Center for Education and Career Innovation, your actions have infuriated constituents across the state (including some of my closest friends who happen to be educators). Hoosiers don’t like to be ignored when they follow rules, like showing up to vote or clearly stating that they want to be in charge of certain aspects of their lives and their children’s futures.

I mention your non-uterus-related actions to expand the scope of the collective anger and to tell you that I understand all of us are complicit in what is happening in your state. Americans suffer from widespread NIMBY — not in my backyard, pausing only to point and laugh when a “backwards” state in flyover country does something people in blue states and bigger cities think they can take for granted. (Abortion clinics are closing en masse in “blue” areas as well; the assumption of safety is hubris, not reality.) We have not heeded the calls from activists and writers in your state, ringing the alarms before laws like RFRA and HEA 1337 were enacted. We feel it doesn’t affect us.

Except that statehouses are where we test out national legislation — and where we get our presidents. A full 30% of our presidents have been governors — and the ones that without your position on their resume were largely military, especially early on. It would behoove all of us to stop writing off places like Indiana (and Tennessee and Oklahoma) and pay attention when our fellow citizens ask us to.

You were floated as an early contender for the GOP nomination this year; smartly, you stayed out of the absolute disaster that the primary has dissolved into. But should you win re-election this November, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you give it a go in 2020 — particularly if there’s a woman in the White House.

I promise you this, governor: Should you decide to make that or any other run for elected office beyond your current term, you can no longer depend on your record being known by so few that you can dress up as a moderate or reasonable legislator. We are watching to see just how much blood will be on your hands in the fall out of HEA 1337 and whether you care to address any of the other life and death situations playing out around you every day.

I also promise to hold onto your “pro-life” card for you. Should you work to repeal some of these deadly laws and prioritize care and protections for at-risk populations, I’ll send it back to you. Better yet, I’ll deliver it myself and shake your hand.

A former Indiana resident and Hoosier at heart


Lead Image Illustration: flickr / DonkeyHotey