Reproductive rights in focus at gubernatorial town hall

A capacity crowd gathered in the meeting room at the Main Branch of the Lake County Public Library Monday to hear Indiana’s gubernatorial candidates Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Republican Jamie Reitenour share their views on reproductive rights.

The Town Hall event in Merrillville was one of four events hosted across the state by McCormick, who is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Reitenour is the only Republican candidate to join the forum. Libertarian Donald Rainwater responded he could not attend. McCormick said none of the four other candidates responded.

McCormick lauded the bipartisan nature of the town hall and her opponent for being willing to discuss the divisive topic. She said the system works better in a bipartisan fashion.

The former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction said she entered the race because she believes regardless of political affiliation Hoosiers deserve better, especially a government that is held accountable and transparent.

“I am also a firm believer women deserver their rights. We deserve our healthcare and reproductive freedom. I also believe that we deserve access to affordable healthcare across the state of Indiana,” McCormick said. “Every single Hoosier deserves equity and equality in your healthcare. It’s not too much to ask.”

Reitenour, who described herself as not a politician, said she got into the race because she was called to do so by the Lord.

“This is a subject matter that rings true to many of our hearts. It’s an emotional subject. I recognize that,” she said, adding her opinion is based on two main principles: human life has value and human life begins at conception. She said while everyone can agree human life has value, the roads part ways there.

“It really does come down to one question: do you value life and when does life begin,” Reitenour said. She pointed to the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision acknowledging in that state an embryo is a human being, which halted in vitro fertilization treatments in the state for a time.

“Once we are calling an embryo a human being, which we believe, then we have to question why doesn’t that human being have rights,” Reitenour said.

McCormick said there are a lot of people of faith in the room and that plays into everybody’s opinions on reproductive rights and freedoms.

“I’m just a firm believer women should have the right to decide and have autonomy over their bodies. There are too many horror stories about what did happen, what could happen, what will happen if we keep going down this pathway,” she said.

Reitenour said she would not support an exception for rape, incest or other traumatic incident in Indiana’s abortion ban to audible gasps from the audience.

“The road I believe in is the road that values life, human life, at conception. That’s probably where crux of conversation is. We reflect in our policies what we also believe,” Reitenour said.

McCormick said the topic is about more than just women.

“The whole topic we are discussing is beyond women. The conversation is about all of us because it’s a family issue. I meant, it’s a society issue. It’s a neighbor issue. It’s about all of us,” she said.

About 200 people crowded the room but remained respectful throughout the exchange, with both candidates drawing applause from their supporters after they answered questions presented by moderator Kathy DeWitt, founder of Nasty Women of Porter County.

A majority of the audience supported McCormick and her positions, erupting into loud applause throughout the event. Reitenour’s supporters also cheered her positions, though they were a much smaller group.

A large number of Porter County Democrats attended the event, including most of the party’s candidates in the May primary. Supporters for Reitenour included representatives from the Moms for Liberty group. Neither side reacted disruptively to the comments with which they did not agree.