As a new adjunct professor six years ago, the class I was asked to teach was titled “Public law and government relations.” It was a class designed to teach how ideas become laws. The students were public affairs majors, just like I was, thirty years earlier. 

Explaining the “how” part is complicated. I’m forced to make hard choices on how to prioritize my lessons. I have learned to focus on two primary ideas: One, that governing is choosing; and two, there is no bigger asset or burden in the public policy process more powerful than time. 

The best contemporary policy example to use for understanding American democratic processes is the debate on women’s reproductive health freedom. Not just because of the Dobbs or Roe decisions, but because it is a policy that is truly a governing choice, unimpacted by infinite conditions beyond decision-makers’ control. 

Oh sure, we watch Schoolhouse Rock and discuss the school bus railroad crossing example dozens of times too. But if you recall from the video, the “local congressman” uses a typewriter to create the famous “I’m Just a Bill.” As good as the video is, it’s old.

Every politician claims a vote for them will lead to a better economy. Sometimes they even explain how. But the truth is that the “economy” has too many variables in it for that platform to be certain. Foreign affairs policies are almost as unpredictable. It’s hilarious to hear Donald Trump and his lemmings explain how the world will absolutely kow tow to America when he’s in charge, or even how it did before, as if none of us paid attention way back when.  

Ballot initiatives

Eleven states are headed for referenda votes in November on constitutional proposals to create or protect abortion rights. Nine of them were initiated by voter petition. Four of those states already effectively have bans in place. Even Arkansas reached their threshold of signatures last week just before that state’s deadline. 

In states where voters can vote, they either already are, or soon will. And because of the Dobbs decision, a vote on reproductive freedom is no longer a hypothetical discussion. There is data to drive the thinking of those clinging to rational thought on the matter.

Let’s talk about Texas. 

That state’s early abortion ban, established in 2021, drove its infant mortality rate up 8% in 2022. The AP reported on the study last week, “Among causes of deaths, birth defects showed a 23% increase, compared to a decrease of about 3% in the rest of the U.S.” Think about that for a moment. Behind each one of these tragic deaths is a story that will live with those who mourn the tragedy forever. And each year thereafter, that group will only grow. 

Texas state elected officials chose this. 

Then there’s Idaho, a state that is manic in its zeal to eradicate women’s freedoms. Its bans have created a crisis of care, driving obstetricians from the state. In February, it was reported that 22 of the state’s 44 counties don’t have access to any practicing obstetrician. More than 50 of them quit practicing there since the state passed its ban in August of 2022. It already ranked in the bottom five of all states for maternal mortality outcomes. 

Idaho chose that. 

Time to vote

Often overlooked by my students, not to mention the American public, the catastrophic choices have only begun to be impacted by the all-powerful influence of time. The awful outcomes in the ban-states aren’t just awful now but will continue to be awful every year they exist. 

Indiana’s time has now begun too. Judicial delays now exhausted, the bad data is being gathered in a state already ranked 44th in infant mortality, and 47th in maternal mortality. Recent polling on the issue shows the most unsurprising results I’ve ever seen, as reported by the Indiana Capital Chronicle

Petition driven ballot initiatives aren’t available here, though 78% of voters here want it. 72% of voters are less likely to support incumbents who voted to block a referendum. 

Hoosiers can and should vote accordingly. 

The state’s embattled attorney general, Todd Rokita, has been aggressively seeking access to patient medical records of those who have received abortion care. 95% of voters oppose this access. “Peace on earth” wouldn’t get 95%, and even if it did, Rokita would likely fight it.

This election and every election after will be about abortion until women’s rights are restored or our democracy collapses. 

Do we really want to become Idaho or Texas? A year from now, data will show that we have. It’s an emergency right now, but that’s not the worst news. 

The worst news is that time will show it always will be.

© Indiana Capital Chronicle, 2024 The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.