Following on a campaign in which women called Gov. Mike Pence's office to tell him about their periods, activists plan a more traditional protest this weekend of a new law banning abortions sought because of genetic abnormalities that makes Indiana one of the most restrictive states in the country.
Women taking part in the phone blast have been offering information about their menstrual cycles, if they had cramps and other updates to the governor's flustered phone staff and posting the conversations to Twitter or a Facebook group. The "Periods for Pence" page has amassed thousands of "likes" in nearly a week. One caller asked if Pence could recommend a gynecologist.
"We are always willing to take calls from constituents who have questions, concerns or are looking for assistance," Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said. The office received nearly 100 calls since the page began and most this week have come from out of state, the governor's spokesman Matt Lloyd said. The constituent phone line had a constant busy tone for a brief time Wednesday.
The backlash against the bill — which bans abortions sought because of fetal abnormalities, including those that can lead to later miscarriages, and mandates fetal remains be either cremated or buried — has gained momentum. Activists plan a Statehouse rally Saturday challenging both legislators and Pence, who built a reputation in Congress as an anti-abortion activist and billed the new law as a "comprehensive pro-life measure."
Anti-abortion laws have seen much success in Indiana, with little opposition from the GOP-dominated Legislature. Among those are restrictions on insurance coverage, waiting periods for procedures and limits on when abortions can be performed.
The new layer of contention comes less than a month before Indiana's primary election, and Pence already faces a tough re-election campaign. He's taken criticism over social issues that made national news, like a furor over a "religious objections" law that critics saw as anti-gay, and is in a rematch against Democrat John Gregg, whom he defeated narrowly in 2012.
But Indiana University political science professor Marjorie Hershey thinks the impact on the governor will be minimal. She cites the months yet before the general election and historically low voter turnouts outside of his socially conservative base.
"His base loves this stuff and that's what he is appealing to," Hershey said. "So it depends on which group is more effectively outraged."
Annette Gross, a co-organizer of Saturday's rally, said though Pence signed the abortion measure into law, she is also frustrated with the 97 lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill. That includes Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who rarely votes on legislation. His Democratic opponent, Dana Black, plans to speak at the rally.
"I'm not that naive to think that 3,200 people is going to cause the governor to take back the bill, but he cannot hide in his ivory tower and pretend everything is OK because it's not," Gross said. "I don't know if it will change anything, but at least it gives people a voice."
The Rev. Marie Siroky, a United Church of Christ hospital chaplain in northwest Indiana and co-organizer of the rally, said adding a penalty for abortion will complicate patient-doctor relationships.
"I don't think people realize the trauma this can cause," Siroky said. "I guarantee you that people will not seek care. They are going to be so scared to go to the ER and you can't be honest with your doctor."
Indiana Right to Life and other anti-abortion advocates say the law will protect fetuses.
"The upcoming Planned Parenthood abortion rally is an ugly reminder of the hate directed at unborn children who are vulnerable for abortion because of their gender, race or potential disability," Sue Swayze, IRL vice president for public affairs, said in an email.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood both said they are planning to sue Indiana in a constitutional challenge over the law, after several other challenges in the past decade over reproductive rights.
Several female GOP lawmakers, some of whom have sponsored anti-abortion legislation in the past, opposed the latest law.
"I think it makes Indiana appear to be very intolerant of women's reproductive health issues," said State Sen. Vaneta Becker, an Evansville Republican. "And I think some people will feel the effects of this in the upcoming election."