INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Sharon Boothby wrapped a clothes hanger around her forehead as a makeshift crown to join a raucous crowd protesting Indiana’s new abortion law Saturday afternoon.
The hanger - a symbol of self-induced, illegal abortions - was doing double-duty for what Boothby sarcastically called a “commemorative tiara” in honor of the law’s signer, Gov. Mike Pence.
At 69, Boothby was one of the oldest protesters in the crowd of more than 2,000 outside the Statehouse. But her sentiments and symbols were shared widely throughout the nearly two-hour event, held just two days after the restrictive law was challenged in court by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Signs of “Fire Mike Pence” and calls to defeat his November re-election bid permeated the atmosphere, along with displays graphically illustrating protesters’ objections to what they see as a law intruding on women’s reproductive rights.
The law - among the most restrictive in the nation - bans abortions performed because of fetal genetic abnormalities, including those that would be fatal to the fetus. Doctors who perform abortions requested because of medical complications are subject to wrongful death suits.
Also, the law mandates that fetal remains that are aborted or miscarried be buried or cremated.
Details of the bill, and its swift passage over the objections of even Republican women lawmakers who’ve previously supported abortion restrictions, has sparked heated rhetoric from both sides.
Indiana Right to Life issued a statement calling the rally an “ugly reminder of the hate directed at unborn children." Some abortion opponents there shouted that the law's protesters were headed to hell.
At Saturday’s rally, multiple placards showed altered images of Pence, his face superimposed on the bodies of pregnant women.
Former state Sen. Vi Simpson, who ran for lieutenant governor with current Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg in the 2012 match against Pence, said the protesters' vehemence was predictable.
“People are here to say, ‘Enough is enough’,” she said.
One of main organizers of the protest was Annette Siegel Gross, a Carmel resident who’s active with the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
She helped organize a similar rally a year ago, in the wake of Pence’s signing the state’s religious freedom law that critics saw as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Saturday’s rally also attracted supporters of presidential campaigns of Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who urged protesters to register and vote.
Speakers included Indianapolis obstetrician Katherine McHugh, who wrote an editorial opposing the law for the Washington Post, saying it would force her to ignore her medical training and stand idly by while her patients suffered.
Her message to Pence and 97 of 150 legislators who supported the law: “Get out of my exam room,” she said to a cheering crowd.
Saturday’s event, which also attracted several-dozen supporters of the new law, remained mostly peaceful under the watchful eye of state and local police. Abortion opponents stood near the back of the crowd, holding large signs displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses.
Among them was Brian Schrank, who described himself as a “Christian abolitionist," calling for an end to all abortion.
He described rally leaders as “mouthpieces for Satan” and called on protesters to repent their sins.
As the rally proceeded, Paul Muriello, an opponent of the new law, approached one of Schrank’s colleagues, who declined to give his name. A heated debate ensued and raged for about 10 minutes.
“I just decided somebody should be saying something to them,” Muriello said. “I understand we’re not going to change each other’s minds.”
Maureen Hayden is the Statehouse reporter for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org