Abortion rights opponents might have to consider other issues when assessing two prominent candidates for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Indiana.
U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita have identical voting records on federal legislation scored by the National Right to Life Committee, which seeks to have abortions outlawed.
Messer, R-6th, and Rokita, R-4th, have sided with the committee's position on all 25 scored votes they have cast since 2013, when Messer took office. Rokita aligned with the committee's position on all 10 scored votes he cast during his first term, in 2011-12.
The most recent vote came a week ago, when the Republican-controlled House approved legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.
Messer and Rokita came to Fort Wayne on Monday for the Allen County Right to Life Uniting Our City for Life Banquet. More than 600 people were expected to attend the event at Ceruti's Banquet and Event Center on Illinois Road.
“We stand behind both of them,” Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, said about Messer and Rokita in an interview before the banquet. “It will be up to the voters to decide based on whatever other issues there are. But they are both extremely pro-life, and we are so privileged to be able to say that.”
How can Messer and Rokita separate themselves on their opposition to abortion rights, if at all? That question was put to both candidates Monday.
“I'm pleased there's two or more members in Congess who have such good records. I think that's a good thing,” Rokita said in an interview at The Journal Gazette.
“I have a Right to Life brand around the entire state, and that's backed up by a record of service for eight years as a statewide official,” he said.
Rokita was a two-term Indiana secretary of state before joining the House. Although the office has nothing to do with abortion legislation, many Hoosier elected officials at every level of government have long publicly self-identified as “pro-life” regardless of their office duties.
Rokita said that as a Catholic, he does not believe in any exceptions for prohibiting abortions.
“You're never going to get me to say that whatever the scenario, however common or rare, that it's OK to intentionally kill human lives. I'm going to continue to strive to support both mother and unborn child,” he said.
Messer has never held statewide office. He pointed out that he was a member of the Indiana House from 2003 through 2006.
“I'm very proud of my 100 percent voting record on life issues, both as a member of Congress and as a state legislator,” Messer said in an interview outside Ceruti's. “We'll be working to communicate that moving forward.”
“Right now, in the campaign, I'm not really focused on running against anybody else” among his Republican rivals, Messer said.
He said later in an email that “many other leaders work hard” against abortion and that “we best help the pro-life movement by working together.”
“And so I am reluctant to contrast the record of other genuinely pro-life leaders with my own,” Messer wrote.
Messer, Rokita and four other announced candidates will vie for the GOP Senate nomination in next year's Indiana primary election. The winner will face Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in the 2018 general election.
According to the National Right to Life Committee, Donnelly has sided with its position three times on 13 scored votes since he became a senator in 2013. When he was a member of the House from 2007 through 2012, Donnelly aligned with the committee's position on 17 of 23 scored votes.
Donnelly campaign manager Peter Hanscom said in a statement that Donnelly is a Catholic who “has consistently supported pro-life positions and the Hyde Amendment in Congress.” The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother.
Hanscom said Donnelly “also believes that being pro-life means that we must also have concern for Hoosiers throughout their lives – that's why he supports improving our nation's health care system, not dismantling it.” He noted that Messer and Rokita voted in favor of legislation to repeal and replace the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires most Americans to carry medical insurance.
Donnelly won election to the Senate in 2012 two weeks after Republican foe Richard Mourdock said in a debate that pregnancy resulting from rape “is something that God intended to happen.”