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The Indiana General Assembly became the first in the country to force through an extreme abortion ban on August 5, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn 50 years of precedent with the “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization” decision. Senate Enrolled Act 1 bans all abortions, with exceptions only for cases of rape and incest up to 10 weeks, fatal fetal anomalies, and instances in which the mother faces severe physical harm or death. Despite enjoying almost no support from Hoosiers on either side of the aisle, Governor Eric Holcomb signed SB 1 into law mere hours after it was passed.
It was clear from the start that the legislature had no interest in the opinions of working-class Hoosiers; only a fraction of those who signed up to give public comments were heard over the course of the special session. Comments made by elected officials made their lack of concern for the people’s needs even more obvious.
“It is a representative government that we have, and it’s our job to determine and communicate with our constituents and make decisions based upon that,” Senate President Pro Tempore Roderick Bray explained. “We’re accountable to our constituents, and every four years, at least over here in the Senate, they decide whether we stay or whether we go.”
The people of Indiana don’t get a say, in other words, because they can just vote for different politicians. This point fails to account for the fact that Indiana is heavily gerrymandered, and that of the Senate seats currently up for reelection this November, 32% are unopposed. Hoosiers have no democratic voice through the ballot box, and the Republican majority in the Statehouse knows it.
Republicans, however, are not the only guilty party. Instead of putting some of their resources into running and promoting progressive, pro-choice candidates for the Indiana Senate, the Democratic Party has poured millions into Republican primaries this summer. The party that purports to be pro-women and pro-choice has given up on Indiana, preferring instead to amplify far-right extremists in the hope that they’ll be easier to defeat; a strategy that backfired spectacularly during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, lest we forget.
With the knowledge that the November elections hold no recourse for unhappy Hoosiers, what is left for us?
Voters in Kansas threw political pundits for a loop when they overwhelmingly voted against an amendment to their state constitution that would have banned abortions in the state. Kansas, like Indiana, is often dismissed as flyover country by high-ranking politicians, especially those in the Democratic Party who are content to view our rural residents as backward, good-for-nothing bumpkins. But the results in Kansas—59% in favor of keeping abortion legal—shows this to be nothing more than bourgeois propaganda.
So far, Hoosiers have been treated to a variety of arguments for why we can’t hold a similar referendum. Bray argued that deciding on the language for the ballot measure would be too difficult. We say it’s no more difficult than deciding on language for an unpopular bill that none of us got to vote on. Indiana Republicans have claimed that it’s too late to introduce a ballot referendum, and that ballots have already gone to print. We say that didn’t stop Governor Holcomb from demanding a special election to replace the deceased U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, so why should it be an excuse to deny us the right to speak on our own behalf?
It is true that there is no official channel by which the people of Indiana can force a ballot measure. No matter the number of signatures we gather, we are, in the end, at the mercy of the tyrants that call themselves our “representatives.” But these tyrants proclaim themselves to be proponents of small government and individual liberty, so we say let’s force them to show us their true face. What is the difference between the federal government telling citizens how to live versus a state government doing so? How does that make us any more free? The Indiana legislature must allow Hoosiers to vote on this critical issue, or be revealed as the anti-democratic tyrants we know them to be.
The Indiana legislature has grown comfortable in their power. They do not hesitate to force through unpopular legislation because they think that we are powerless.
They are wrong.
The power of the people has, historically, been the strongest determinant of civil rights struggles in the United States. The draft was only done away with because hundreds of thousands protested the war in Vietnam, and men fled the draft in droves rather than fight in an unjust war. The Civil Rights Act was not passed because those in power truly believed in racial equality; it was passed because millions took to the streets to demand liberation. Women were not granted the vote by benevolent men who “saw the light;” women won the vote through struggle, through organizing, and through the mobilization of masses of women who were previously uninvolved in politics.
This petition is the first step forward. To win this fight, once and for all, we must stand together in solidarity against an unjust system that allows a tiny minority of the population to dictate the rights of the majority.
We demand a referendum!