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Tina Casey headshot

The Abortion Ban Brain Drain Is a Feature, Not a Bug

By Tina Casey

The Indiana Statehouse, fall 2020

A near-total ban on abortion became law in Indiana last week, and one leading business in the wider medical field has already warned about potential consequences to the state’s economy. Other STEM employers in Indiana may sound the “brain drain” alarm, too. However, fight, not flight, is the only effective pathway back to full human and civil rights for all pregnant people throughout the nation.

Indiana rushes to the head of the abortion ban line 

The new Indiana ban is significant because it is the first legislative action to follow the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, which effectively ended federal abortion protections. Other states had previously enacted “trigger” laws in anticipation of the Dobbs decision. Still others are seeking to revive existing laws that have been suspended for a generation, after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision affirmed a person’s right to manage their own pregnancy.

Indiana was the first test of an open public debate on new law after Dobbs.

Republican lawmakers in Indiana were keenly aware that their post-Dobbs action could help set the standard for similar moves in other statehouses. Apparently, speed played a leading role in their thinking. The Republican majority engaged their state in an unseemly rush to first place. They were the first to pass new restrictions on abortion after Dobbs, and they were also the first state legislature to convene a special session to take up an abortion bill after Dobbs.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce was among those pleading for moderation after the session began on July 25. In a widely reported statement last week, the Chamber noted that “the Indiana General Assembly has debated a substantial policy change on the issue of abortion in a compressed timeframe.”

“Such an expedited legislative process — rushing to advance state policy on broad, complex issues — is, at best, detrimental to Hoosiers, and at worst, reckless,” the business group added.

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The timing of the final vote could not have been worse for the inclusivity efforts of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Last week, the organization kicked off the nomination process for its Jackson Lewis Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Champion Award, aimed at recognizing organizations with outstanding progress on equity in the workplace.

“Equality is now a priority in the workplace — and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is eager to celebrate those leading the charge in this area,” the Chamber stated.

“It can be daunting to feel like we’re constantly surrounded by division in today’s culture, but one real positive is seeing Indiana companies accomplish much in bringing equality to the workplace and helping underrepresented groups thrive in the modern economy,” added Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar, whose words are now dripping with unintentional irony.

Top employers take a stand

Backers of the abortion ban lobbied for an absolute ban, which they did not get. However, the “moderated” version that became Indiana law accomplishes the same goals as other restrictive abortion bans. 

Cruelty and dehumanization are at the heart of any law that seeks to manage a pregnancy with all the force of a police state and denies a pregnant person prompt, appropriate care for their condition. Regardless of the purported intention, abortion bans fetishize biological functions over all else. They sweep human agency under a carpet of idolatry.

The Indiana bill does include exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. However, it still places biological systems over a person’s ability to make key decisions about their health and life. The bill also forces all non-hospital abortion clinics in the state to close, and doctors who fail to file the required paperwork for an abortion will lose their license to practice.

Eli Lilly, for one, was not having it. The company employs more than 10,000 workers at its Indianapolis headquarters, putting it among the state’s top employers. The company did not join hundreds of other businesses to lobby publicly against the ban before it passed. However, in a statement after the ban passed, Eli Lilly expressed concern over its ability to attract and retain “diverse scientific, engineering and business talent from around the world.”

“As a global company headquartered in Indianapolis for more than 145 years, we work hard to retain and attract thousands of people who are important drivers of our state’s economy. Given this new law, we will be forced to plan for more employment growth outside our home state,” the company emphasized.

That statement is not quite as forceful as it may sound. Eli Lilly already settled on the location for its latest major expansion all the way back in 2020. The city of Concord, North Carolina, will get Eli Lilly’s new $1 billion manufacturing facility and the 600 new jobs that come with it, partly on account of its proximity to universities with strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Nevertheless, the company’s response to the Indiana abortion ban can be seen as a warning shot to state policymakers who seek to attract their business. North Carolina state law still protects a person’s right to manage their own pregnancy as they see fit, as do laws in a number of other states.

A similar tack was taken by Cummins, another leading employer in Indiana.

“The right to make decisions regarding reproductive health ensures that women have the same opportunity as others to participate fully in our work force and that our work force is diverse,” Cummins spokesperson Jon Mills said in a statement.

“There are provisions in the law that conflict with this, impact our people, impede our ability to attract and retain top talent and influence our decisions as we continue to grow our footprint with a focus on selecting welcoming and inclusive environments,” he added.

Editor's note: Independent journalist Judd Legum of Popular Information this morning has just disclosed more details about the political donations given to Indiana politicians by the aforementioned companies.

Fight, not flight on abortion rights

Cummins, Eli Lilly and other Indiana employers may take their business across state lines for now. However, a national ban on abortion is looming, and so is a rollback of the privacy protections that guarantee the right to use contraceptives.

That may sound outlandish, but the 6-3 Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has already thrown almost 50 years’ worth of pregnancy protections out the window with their decision in the Dobbs case. Abortion bans are just the beginning of a forced birth regime.

Business leaders who are serious about protecting pregnancy rights need to stop lobbying behind the scenes and get in front of the issue publicly. Despite the loud voices on the abortion-banning side, public opinion is firmly in favor of pregnancy rights. Last week’s abortion referendum in Kansas, for example, was a resounding endorsement of human and civil rights for pregnant people.

Business leaders can also support legal efforts to overturn state abortion laws. In Florida, for example, a diverse group of clerics is suing the state for interfering in their ability to provide counsel in accordance with religious beliefs that support the right to terminate a pregnancy. 

Ultimately, business leaders need to stop playing “both sides” of the political debate and start supporting Democratic candidates for state and federal offices. The partisan divide over abortion is clear as day, and there is no middle ground.

The only pathway out of a national forced-birth regime is to cement a Democratic majority in Congress and revoke the filibuster burden.

That will finally enable the Senate to pass laws by a simple majority vote, paving the way for new legislation that affirms equal rights for all, with or without any support from the Republican side of the aisle.

The six Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court have already played their cards and forced a national crisis. Business leaders can sit by and watch it unfold, or help ensure that the Democratic message of diversity, equality and inclusion is heard loud and clear from now until Election Day. 

Image credit: Steven Van Elk via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey