A Q&A about gender justice, reproductive freedom, and sexual health with two of the candidates running for the Democratic Party nomination to represent District 6 in the House of Indiana’s General Assembly.
(NB: Blad’s campaign submitted answers after we initially published Bauer and Duncan’s responses; we’ve updated our previous post to include all three candidates’ answers.)
Irish 4 Reproductive Health (I4RH): How do reproductive freedom and gender justice factor into your platform and ultimate goals as a State Representative for our area?
Maureen Bauer (MB): I believe that no one should live a life in fear, simply for being who they are. I trust in a woman’s ability to make her own health decisions that are best for her, and that it is her right, and my policy would reflect these views.
Drew Duncan (DD): Reproductive Health Rights are Human Rights. Unfortunately, most of our Indiana lawmakers do not agree. People seeking reproductive healthcare have been terrorized by groups of violent protesters. Patients are relentlessly coerced into participating in unethical and deceptive counseling practices. Doctors and clinics are required to jump through redundant, and often unconstitutional, hoops to adhere to ordinances. Healthcare workers are harassed, threatened, and violently attacked for simply doing their jobs.
I believe in the expansion of healthcare to include every Hoosier. Healthcare for all includes reproductive freedom. I believe Hoosiers have the right to safely access reproductive healthcare, without fear of being attacked or shamed. I will fight to reopen Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.
Garrett Blad (GB): I’m running because South Bend needs leaders committed to action now. Reproductive justice is critical to a healthy and well-functioning society. However, these rights have been under siege in Indiana. We must begin to fight back and win more protections so every Hoosier has the reproductive healthcare they need to live a healthy and fulfilled life, no matter their race, gender, or where they live. Urgent leadership is needed, not the continuation of the status quo.
I4RH: In your view, what are the top priorities for legislative action in these areas at the state level?
MB: I am hopeful to see the following legislation re-proposed in the 2021 legislative session, which I would support to move into law:
- State Rep. Rita Fleming’s proposed legislation to allow pharmacists in the state to prescribe oral hormonal contraceptives and hormonal contraceptive patches to women aged 18 years and older.
- State Rep. Karlee Macer’s proposed legislation that is working to define consent under the law, whereas currently, sex without consent is not a crime in Indiana.
- State Rep. Carey Hamilton’s proposed legislation to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products, which has been removed in Illinois and Ohio, and is an unfair burden to women for medically necessary supplies.
- Sen. Karen Tallian’s proposed legislation to provide free contraceptives to all with insurance.
DD: Let’s start at the city level! We can press our City Council to support organizations like Planned Parenthood.
GB: There has been an alarming rise in maternal mortality in Indiana because of state-sponsored campaigns to defund women’s healthcare and demonize women’s healthcare providers.
First, we must expand rights for pregnant workers and reduce the infant mortality rate. Pregnant women at Amazon assembly line for instance have no rights, something that Hoosier Action, a group focused on improving the lives of Hoosiers, pushed in the last legislative session and got close to passing. One additional way of reducing the sky-high infant mortality rate in Indiana is to ensure Medicaid covers doulas, a proven way to reduce maternal mortality. Everyone should be able to afford a doula, if they want one.
Second – Roe is not enough. State legislators around the country need to be proactive and strategic in order to ensure that people can actually access their Constitutionally-secured right to an abortion. We need to dismantle Indiana's TRAP laws, which make it prohibitively expensive for many people in our state to access abortion and other forms of reproductive care. These laws are under-handed strategies to shut down existing providers and to prevent new ones from opening. Worse yet, defenders of these wasteful and misguided laws disingenuously claim to want to "protect women" when they are actually putting people in harm's way–not to mention violating their rights. The state should also legalize self-managed abortions which are proven to be medically safe. This is especially important during the pandemic, when access to in-person care is restricted.
And lastly, Indiana public schools need to offer adequate sex education. The current requirements are abysmal. I will work to make sure Indiana leads on sex education.
I4RH: Given the Republican supermajority in our state legislature, how would you advance these priorities?
MB: The top priority would be to break the supermajority to allow for Democrats to have their legislation heard, and voted on, rather than the current imbalance, which doesn’t even require Democrats to show up to make a quorum. The way to accomplish policy on women’s healthcare would be to support and elect capable women candidates as they step up to run for office, and who have the experience to collaborate and accomplish gender equality through sensible legislation. Currently, our Indiana General Assembly is only 24% female, which does not fairly represent the 51% female population.
DD: We have an uphill battle in Indiana’s General Assembly. I will fight for reproductive freedom and gender justice the only way I know how. Organize! I will organize down-state to gather like-minded lawmakers to fight for reproductive freedom and gender justice. Once I am elected, I plan on looking down-ballot. I will organize and help fund progressive candidates all over the State of Indiana. The more progressives we have in our state and local governments, the more likely we are to change Indiana State Law.
GB: First off, the Democratic caucus, whatever its size, must not tolerate forced-birth members. I will fight to flip seats, contributing money I raise from this safe Democratic seat to pro-choice candidates across the state in addition to mobilizing our volunteer base to call voters. One of them is right next door to South Bend. Dr. Don Westerhausen came 400 votes shy of flipping a Republican seat in Mishawaka. Had the South Bend Rep donated even $1,000 and written an op-ed, perhaps Democrats would already be out of a super-minority status in the legislature.
Legislation to protect pregnant worker rights is a critical bill and moves rights for women and families forward. However, the opposition to it suggests that this has always been about sexism and economic inequality. In other words, I am happy to work on incremental change with Republicans, but really, we need a movement to flip as many seats, the seats that Rep. Bauer lost as Speaker of the House. Unlike Rep. Bauer, I will fight against Mike Pence’s illegal crackdown on women’s health centers, which provide critical care to entire communities.
I4RH: How would you recommend reducing the amount of harassment and nuisance people going to Whole Woman’s Health South Bend have to deal with?
MB: I would uphold and abide the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and hold those offenders accountable for their actions, including intimidation, force or threat to force, injure or threat to injure.
DD: Press the mayor, push city council to pass ordinances concerning nuisance individuals. Essentially these people are intimidating others not to seek medical help. This cannot continue to be the case.
GB: It is wrong for members of our community who seek this care and the Whole Women’s Health staff to be routinely subjected to harassment by anti-abortion activists who assemble outside of the clinic whenever it is open. All people deserve privacy when accessing health care, and reproductive and sexual health care is no different.
While the city cannot ban free speech, city officials can push for an ordinance that makes it a crime to follow and harass another person within 15 feet of the premises of a reproductive health care facility. As a leader in the community, I will discourage such disruptions to healthcare access in our community and work with local leaders to protect those seeking their constitutional right to reproductive freedom.
I4RH: As of 2019, the CDC determined that cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are surging in Indiana and St. Joseph County’s rate was higher than the state average. What policies at the local and state level will most effectively halt this?
MB: Investing in our sexual and reproductive health is critical to having healthier communities and citizens. Also, recognizing that not all people have equal access to reproductive healthcare resources, services, or information is a direct result of increased cases of preventable disease. Area epidemiologists have compiled data down to the zip code on our dismal infant and maternal mortality rates, and sexual health which state officials have turned away. Given the current health crisis we are in, I can only hope that our state officials will trust our medical experts again, as we look to them to guide us through the greatest health emergency we have seen in generations, and use the data to improve the safety and health of our communities.
DD: I’ve seen this injustice play out over and over again in South Bend City. We’ve witnessed reproductive healthcare facilities shuttered and replaced by anti-choice, propaganda spewing “women’s counseling centers”. These counseling centers often offer no medical services outside of free pregnancy testing.
So called abortion clinics do more for the community than just abortions. Agencies like Planned Parenthood not only offer free STI testing, they also offer cost effective preventative care. From mammograms to “safe sex” education and counseling. Many of these infectious diseases are preventable with education and lost cost prophylactics.
GB: We need to invest in more women’s health centers, which often provide STD testing and education to all in the community. We need better, honest sex education. And we need to expand access to basic healthcare, expanding qualifications for the Indiana Healthy Plan so that check-ups and testing for STDs are free, easy, and normalized in our state.
**NB: I4RH posed a different question about Patrick Bauer’s record to Maureen Bauer than to Drew Duncan and Garrett Blad. We sought to press Candidate Bauer to address some of the specifics of her father’s 50-year incumbency while pressing Candidates Duncan and Blad to demonstrate the depths of their knowledge about the recent history of reproductive rights legislation in Indiana.**
I4RH to Maureen Bauer: Your campaign’s message emphasizes consistency and stability for our area, as well as the values of service that you’ve learned from your family. Your father, who has held this seat since 1970, has repeatedly cast votes that undermine bodily autonomy, even though he is a Democrat. Just within the past few years, he has voted in favor of the Fetal Remains Burial law, voted to ban a common second-trimester abortion method, and voted in favor of allowing nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists to refuse to participate in an abortion—or prescribe an abortion-inducing drug—if doing so would be contrary to any religious or moral belief; providers are permitted to abstain regardless of whether others are available to fulfill patients’ health needs and patients are not warned ahead of time if they will be denied care. Are these areas where you would build on your father’s record?
MB: I believe that every woman is capable of making her own decisions, and I believe in her ability to do so, regardless of where she came from. I support women in their struggle for equity, and trust women to make their own decisions and think for themselves.
I support women’s reproductive rights, and as a woman in Indiana, I know the burden of others trying to make these decisions for her. It is a woman’s right to do so, regardless of stigma or shame.
I4RH to Drew Duncan (and Garrett Blad): What are your thoughts on Patrick Bauer’s record on reproductive rights? What specifically would you have done differently?
DD: Patrick Bauer’s record is abhorrent on reproductive freedom and gender injustice. I refuse to vote in favor of offensive legislation like the Fetal Remains Act. Bauer speaks a great game during election years, but fails to follow through when it comes to voting in the State House.
GB: I believe women deserve the freedom to decide on their own reproductive health. I do not support the bills that Rep. Bauer voted for, like Pence’s anti-abortion bill that a federal judge blocked in 2016 because it was an illegal limit on a woman’s long-established constitutional right. The law that Bauer supported affected poor women the most, because they are not able to travel to other states to seek abortions.
When I talk about ensuring everyone has the health care they need, I mean everyone. This is about improving the health of our community. Banning abortions has proven to only force women to resort to more dangerous and harmful alternatives, which serves no one.
We need to expand care for women before, during and after the birth so that we can reduce the rate of infant mortality in Indiana, which in St. Joe County is among the highest in the industrialized world, and it’s highest among black women. I will do everything in my power to fight for women and families in South Bend.
Throughout Rep. Bauer’s decades-long tenure, Hoosiers have faced numerous obstructions to accessing reproductive healthcare–and these obstructions have increased dramatically under Bauer's watch. At best, he has been a negligent enabler of those who would interfere with our rights; at worst, he has proactively contributed to the erosion of bodily autonomy for Hoosiers, especially people who are low-income. Urgent change is necessary to lead our state in a new direction.
I4RH to Garrett Blad (we only asked this of Blad): You’re a Notre Dame alumnus–what do you think the University and Notre Dame students should do to improve reproductive and sexual health on campus and off?
GB: Notre Dame students should demand reproductive justice, access to condoms and reproductive health care, and sex education as a part of the required curriculum. As a gay student at Notre Dame with several friends who experienced assualt, there is a long way to go to ensure the LGBT students and women feel safe on a campus that continues to struggle with high rates of sexual assault. There is low faith that Notre Dame’s administration takes cases seriously, which creates a culture of fear and reproduces more harm. Students must continue to demand change and leadership from the administration to take assault seriously, no matter who is involved.
I4RH: What else do you want voters in our area–and especially people who can become pregnant–to know about your commitment to reproductive freedom?
MB: I remain committed to protecting women’s reproductive rights and improving the health and well-bring of our mothers and children, especially those children in their critical first year of life, and those with disabilities. I look forward to helping all in Indiana, and increasing the health outcomes for our community, and will work to improve the statistics on our infant and maternal mortality rates.
DD: If elected I will be accessible to our community. I will stand with you. I will rally on the streets and fight in the State House. Most importantly I want education about reproductive rights and resources to be abundant and available. This includes a robust sex education program.
GB: I’m fully committed to ensuring reproductive freedom for everyone. I am the candidate who will work tirelessly to use my network, funds, and volunteers to win other elections around the state so those who believe in improving reproductive freedom can govern and implement changes in the Statehouse. Far too many in our community cannot afford more of the status quo. Urgent change is needed and I will fight to make it a reality.