Indiana Lawmakers Who Introduced Full Abortion Ban Lose GOP Primaries

Their losses were among the setbacks for the far-right in Tuesday’s Indiana and Ohio primaries, but the results also signaled how much new restrictions on civil rights have become GOP orthodoxy.

Daniel Nichanian   |    May 4, 2022

John Jacob, a Republican lawmaker who was ousted on Tuesday, protests in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic (John Jacob State Representative/Facebook)

Two Republican legislators who led recent efforts in Indiana to champion hard-right policies, including serving as the chief authors of legislation to fully ban abortion, lost their reelection bids in GOP primaries on Tuesday.

State Representatives John Jacob and Curt Nisly were among a large slate of far-right candidates running on Tuesday in Indiana, as part of a confrontation between the already-conservative GOP establishment and advocates who were angry at COVID-19 regulations and what they saw as an insufficiently aggressive approach to transforming the state into a conservative haven.

Nearly all non-incumbent candidates who ran as part of this far-right takeover effort lost as well, alongside Jacob and Nisly.

But the results do not shake hardline conservatives’ hold on the mainstream of GOP politics. The Indiana legislature, which is run by the Republican leaders who clashed with Jacob and Nisly, appears likely to adopt new anti-abortion bills in months ahead. Pro-choice activists rallied on behalf of reproductive rights in front of the federal building and courthouse in Indianapolis yesterday.

A similar dynamic played out in Ohio. Former Republican lawmaker John Adams, who ran for secretary of state by touting the Big Lie, the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, lost by a large margin on Tuesday to incumbent Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who pushed back against Trump in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election. This was the first secretary of state election this year featuring a Big Lie candidate, though Adams never caught fire like some of his counterparts in other states.

But LaRose’s victory hardly reflects a last stand by moderate forces. He has himself ramped up talk of voter fraud over the past year, and his tenure has included numerous clashes with voting rights groups over restrictions to ballot access. 

Indiana and Ohio’s GOP primaries on Tuesday show that the party’s establishment can still secure wins over an emboldened far-right. But it also signals just how aggressively the party’s mainstream is taking aim at civil rights. The night was headlined, after all, by the U.S. Senate victory of the Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance over far-right candidate Josh Mandel. 

Jacob and Nisly’s ousters in Indiana are still significant setbacks for the state’s far right, which lost two of its most visible figures. 

Jacob and Nisly joined forces in January 2021 as the main sponsors of House Bill 1539, which sought to ban abortion in Indiana; Jacob was already known for protesting abortion rights at the statehouse wearing red-stained medical scrubs and a partially dismembered child’s doll prior to his election in 2020. Both lawmakers lost one day after Politico reported that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court had voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Also in January 2021, in the aftermath of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, Jacob and Nisly also introduced a bill to extensively review voting machines and introduce new restrictions on how elections are run. 

Jacob also has a history of staunchly discriminatory comments, including public remarks disparaging Catholics and Muslims.

While neither of Jacob and Nisly’s bills has advanced, new laws that curtail reproductive rights in Indiana could pass later this year. 

The legislature’s GOP leaders have said that, if the court rules against Roe, they would likely meet in a special session to advance anti-abortion laws. Republican Governor Eric Holcomb has not said whether he will call a special session, and observers say the 2022 elections could shape what final legislation looks like. But Holcomb has signed many laws that restrict abortion during his tenure, including in 2018, 2021, and 2022.

Indiana lawmakers have also passed staunchly conservative legislation recently, including a bill targeting young transgender athletes; Holcomb vetoed that bill in March, but the legislature could override his veto. 

Still, conservative activists in Indiana have claimed that the state is too hostile to their views. And they have called for passing the kind of abortion ban that Jacob and Nisly authored. (Twenty-two states have “trigger laws” on the books that would immediately ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, but Indiana is not among them.) 

“Defy Roe. Abolish Abortion,” Jacob wrote in December in a Facebook post that also shared the address of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Jacob also attacked the governor for not closing abortion clinics during the pandemic.

The founder of Hoosiers for Life, an anti-abortion group in Indiana, created the Liberty Defense PAC, with the goal of moving the Indiana legislature even further to the right. Besides demanding a quick ban on abortion, Holcomb’s COVID-19 regulations were among the group’s chief targets. The PAC endorsed 23 state House candidates it dubbed “liberty defenders;” many of whom ran against incumbent lawmakers. 

This far-right slate had a very bad night on Tuesday. Twenty of its endorsed candidates lost; only two won. (The final district remains too close to call as of publication, though the “liberty” candidate leads narrowly.) Jacob and Nisly were the only incumbents on the “liberty” slate; Nisly faced a fellow lawmaker after their districts were combined due to redistricting.

Traditional conservatives also held the line further up the ballot in a key congressional election: Erin Houchin, a former lawmaker, won the Republican primary for Indiana’s deeply red Ninth Congressional District. Houchin ran as a staunch conservative, but the far-right Freedom Caucus rallied behind the candidacy of former congressmember Mike Sodrel.

In Ohio, a Republican candidate who attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. emerged victorious in the GOP primary for the Ninth Congressional District. J.R. Majewski will now face Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a longtime incumbent whose district was just redrawn by Republicans to favor their party.

LaRose’s win in the secretary of state primary will at least prevent a candidate who had vowed to “fight back” against a purportedly stolen election to become Ohio’s chief elections official.

But LaRose himself had mirrored Trump’s rhetoric against mail voting in 2020 when he restricted each county to only having one drop box location for mail ballots. This year, LaRose indicated that he would back calls to impeach the state’s GOP chief justice because she voted to strike down his party’s gerrymander, and he also defended Trump’s false claims that voter fraud is a widespread problem, which triggered a worried rebuke from the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

LaRose’s efforts earned him Trump’s endorsement in late April, one week before the primary.

In November, LaRose will face Democrat Chelsea Clark, who this week seized on the news that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe. “I’ll do everything in my power when elected to ensure that Ohioans know their Secretary of State will continue to advocate for their reproductive freedom,” she tweeted yesterday