Pro-Life Civil War Explodes in Indiana

This may be one of the most controversial posts that I write this year.  It won’t add any friends to my address book. After much thought, and several questions about this situation, I feel compelled to address a serious problem even though I write this with some angst and sadness.

I try to use these weekly emails to provide some commentary, but it is usually surrounding research, polling, or objective events.   What I am offering today is my own “two-cents” involving friends.

Last week, I was very disappointed and troubled to read a respected and influential publication that is widely circulated in statehouse political circles.   The cover story of Indiana Legislative Insight was about the escalating war within the Indiana pro-life movement.

Some of you may know that there is a new pro-life organization on the scene called Hoosiers for Life (H4L).   When they started in 2016 it was to be a part of a reformed Tea Party group in north central Indiana, which is now the Indiana Liberty Coalition (ILC).   I helped the ILC through this process as an active advisor to its leadership.   One of ILC’s original leaders felt as though a separate entity for life should exist rather than staying with ILC.  Hoosiers for Life was formed at that time.   To a lesser degree, I have helped advise Hoosiers for Life.

ILC is a pro-family organization.  I have always supported its existence.  I am also a supporter of Hoosiers for Life.   When I worked for the Indiana Family Institute, a Godly leader taught me that in pro-family work, much like regular ministry, “the fields are white with harvest, but the laborers are few.”   We helped as many other organizations as we could without concern over competition for support among donors.

I have tried to follow that lesson as the head of AFA of Indiana.  The Tea Party movement was never a threat to AFA-IN. I did my best to help and support them.  I am very honored to have the head of Eagle Forum of Indiana as one of AFA-IN’s board members.    If we do what is right, and do it His way, God provides our support.  When others succeed in promoting our shared values, we all benefit, and we should rejoice with them.

That being said, I understand disagreements and friendly fire.  I have disagreed with other pro-family leaders, and regrettably, I have caused some of those conflicts, probably more than they have caused them.  Those few disagreements have always been behind closed doors. IFI, Advance America, and AFA of Indiana would be the first to say that we are sometimes like little brothers who push each other one second, and play together the next. Then we hug for the family photo.

I am deeply disappointed in this open war between Indiana Right to Life and Hoosiers for Life that began when Hoosiers for Life formed.   There has essentially been a battle in the “pro-life sandbox” with some inside the box not welcoming other kids to play.   Both sides have contributed to this, though not equally in my view.

Hoosiers for Life formed partly due to a disagreement with the political approach of Indiana Right to Life.   The other disagreement was in policy over an incremental approach to ending elective abortion, which is now in its 45th year.

When it comes to policy, I agree with Indiana Right to Life.  Although I do not like it or take pride in it, I believe that the incremental approach is the only game we are allowed to play due to the liberal judicial activism of this age.   AFA of Indiana has supported every pro-life measure backed by IRTL in the Indiana General Assembly.

Hoosiers for Life has backed a bill authored by Rep. Curt Nisly, which would make all elective abortions illegal in Indiana.  It is a “life at conception” bill.    IRTL opposes this bill, aggressively in fact.    As I wrote in our January newsletter, AFA-IN has concerns about the legal viability of this legislation.  Still we believe that there are legitimate political and cultural benefits in discussing life at conception, even if the bill does not go anywhere.   (It has been declared ‘dead on arrival’ in the last two sessions.)

This divide has had another unfortunate outcome.  Out of state groups, interestingly, often made up of mostly young people calling themselves “abolitionists,” have come into Indiana.  They have exploited the situation with graphic abortion displays and hard-core tactics that sometimes cross the line of proper ethics. For example, these groups protested at House Speaker Brian Bosma’s mother’s funeral.   Hoosiers for Life has gotten the blame for this, which has further expanded the divide within the pro-life community.

One criticism I have of H4L is that I believe they are doing things poorly on policy.  They need to broaden beyond one bill and embrace other pro-life measures such as a heartbeat bill, as well as legislation that IRTL supports.   If they do not do this, they will have a hard time not being linked with the abolitionist movement and their tactics.

I would like to see Hoosiers for Life and Right to Life working hand in hand, even though they have very strong disagreements over legislative approaches to end abortion, and the speed at which that may happen.  However, they should still work in agreement to save as many children as possible, whenever possible.    This would be an expansion of the life movement, rather than a division of it.

My criticism of Right to Life, as the veteran in the ring, is perhaps even greater.   Right to Life is playing politics terribly.   Indiana Right to Life’s political arm has gone off the rails to the point that they might as well have their PAC office set up in the Allen County GOP headquarters.

Indiana Right to Life’s political entity, (which is separate from IRTL), has endorsed candidates who are pro-life but opposed to religious freedom, supporters of same-sex marriage, genderless restrooms, or are socially liberal.  Their defense of this is that they are a one-issue group.

This is not Massachusetts where you take whatever pro-life candidate you can get into the statehouse.  There are 111 Republicans in the legislature. Only about four would dare to say that they are not pro-life.  The pro-life movement is so strong in Indiana that every good campaign consultant will advise a candidate to campaign as a pro-life leader.  There’s no shortage of good pro-life candidates.  We can easily have pro-life candidates who also are right on religious freedom and natural marriage.

Again, the response I get to this is that life is what matters most.  Imagine if AFA of Indiana’s PAC began to support pro-religious freedom candidates that were pro-choice on abortion.  When asked why we undermine RTL this way we say that religious freedom was the first freedom upon which our nation was founded, and therefore the most important.   That does not make sense.  At the very least, out of respect for life and our pro-life friends, we would never undermine their legislative agenda that way.  We would find candidates who stand for religious freedom, family, and life, or we would not lend our credibility to their campaign.

Sadly, it’s gotten worse than this.  As Indiana Legislative Insight picked up, while IRTL did dual endorsements at the federal level, endorsing Braun, Messer and Rokita for US Senate this election, for example, they purposefully avoided dual endorsements of pro-life candidates in statehouse races.  Instead, they are endorsing and working actively to help GOP incumbents defeat, not so much their pro-abortion opponents, but their more pro-life challengers who may be sympathetic to Hoosiers For Life.  Many of those candidates are more pro-family, pro-faith, or more conservative.   (In my experience, those who are moderate or liberal on social issues are often not really all that strong on lifeLife is just a box to check as a part of getting elected.)

If “all I care about is saving babies,” as one of RTL’s leaders has often said to me about this disagreement, why don’t they endorse all pro-life candidates?   In many of the races that they are now most actively involved in, no matter who wins, they have a pro-life vote in the legislature.

IRTL appears to be paying far less attention to some pro-abortion incumbents in Southern Indiana who have pro-life challengers.  They have also refused to endorse Rep. Curt Nisly, (who may have a pro-choice opponent) because he is the author of H4L’s “life at conception bill” even though his pro-life voting record is 100%.

They also refused to endorse a candidate who served as the Indiana Family Institute’s pro-life lobbyist and who testified in support of IRTL-backed bills.  They endorsed the more moderate 28-year GOP incumbent, instead.  Some candidates, who had RTL endorsements two years ago, now no longer have that endorsement when challenging GOP incumbents this cycle.  Indiana Legislative Insight attributed these endorsement oddities entirely to the war between IRTL and H4L.

I would encourage readers to pray for this situation.  Do not be drawn into picking one pro-life group over another.  Pray for a healing and softening of hearts, as this divide has become very ugly.  Pray for AFA of Indiana in how I can best deal with this too.  Many pro-family leaders and elected officials are trying to straddle this gap, because, just like AFA-IN, they have friends and supporters on both sides of the divide.  Conversely, there are those who seem to want to exploit this divide and take a side for their own political purposes.

In unity, with diverse approaches, and with grace toward each other, I believe that Indiana can be the most pro-life state in America, but, first, some leadership perspectives really need to change.

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