ASHINGTON — Donald Trump may have just made women’s health a bigger issue in the 2016 election.
His announcement Friday morning that he’d picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential candidate could boost his credibility with anti-abortion leaders who have been wary of him. But Pence’s selection won’t do Trump any favors with advocates of women’s health, who say the Indiana governor has supported some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country.
Pence drew national attention in March when he signed a law that makes it illegal to perform an abortion because of a fetal disability. The law also requires doctors to give women information about alternatives to abortion, like perinatal hospice care.
Pence’s actions in Indiana — along with his record as a Republican congressman for 12 years before he was elected governor — are giving new hope to anti-abortion groups that weren’t all ready to unite behind Trump.
“Mr. Trump’s selection of Gov. Mike Pence is an affirmation of the pro-life commitments he’s made and will rally the pro-life grassroots,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. “Mike Pence is a pro-life trailblazer and Mr. Trump could not have made a better choice.”
Abortion rights groups, however, are appalled. They say the Indiana abortion law helped lead to the conviction of a woman who was sent to jail for obtaining a drug-induced abortion in violation of the law.
A Trump-Pence ticket “could spell out a scary reality for American women and our families,” said Kaylie Hanson Long, national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The Indiana law became a model for similar restrictions that anti-abortion groups are pushing in other states. At the time, Pence said he signed the legislation because ““throughout my public career, I have stood for the sanctity of life.”
“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn,” he added.
That’s consistent with the way Pence has viewed the abortion issue throughout most of his career.
“You’re either for protecting the unborn and the religious liberty of every American, or you aren’t,” Pence said in a February 2015 speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual Ronald Reagan Dinner.
As a congressman, Pence had a long history of voting for abortion restrictions and other causes important to the anti-abortion community, including cutting off public funds to any health care provider that performs the procedure.
In 2011, the House passed Pence’s legislation to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, as part of a larger effort to defund Obamacare. That same year — two years before he left Congress to become Indiana governor — he got a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
That’s a more consistent record on abortion than Trump has had. He has spent most of the campaign explaining how he has “evolved” from a supporter of abortion rights to an opponent of the procedure — while still raising eyebrows among anti-abortion groups with other statements, like his declaration that “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood” through its women’s health services.
Beyond his abortion record, Pence has tried to present himself as a supporter of medical research and the life sciences industry.
In 2013, he worked with life sciences leaders to launch the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, a $360 million nonprofit that got $25 million in startup funds from the state. He also talked about the need for Indiana to invest in biopharmaceutical research, saying the research could bring economic benefits to the state.
“As these clinical trials move forward, as we see more research and development in Indiana, we’re going to see more jobs in Indiana,” he said during a 2013 visit to Covance, a contract research organization in Indianapolis that works on drug developments.
The abortion law, however, may have undermined Pence’s hopes of being seen as a reliable supporter of medical research. In May, Indiana University sued the county prosecutor over the abortion law, arguing that it restricts academic freedom by criminalizing the transfer or collection of fetal tissue for research.
He was also an outspoken opponent of embryonic stem cell research in Congress, writing in a 2009 op-ed that “I am a Christian who believes that life begins at conception and that a human embryo is human life. Therefore, I believe it is morally wrong to create human life to destroy it for research.”
Pence hasn’t always displayed a sound knowledge of medical science. As a congressman, BuzzFeed reported, Pence wrote an op-ed that included this “reality check” about tobacco: “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”
Pence has established enough credibility with the medical industry, however, to be able to raise large amounts of money from them.
Pence’s campaign committee reported a $100,000 donation on June 30, from Anthony Moravec, CEO of Applied Laboratories of Columbus, Ind. The company started off as a regulatory consulting firm specializing in Food and Drug Administration submissions and now makes pharmaceutical and health care products.
And according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which analyzed Pence’s campaign reports, two of his top donors from the 2012 and 2016 election cycles were in the health industry. Moravec’s total giving was $431,735, followed by Stuart Reed, president of Magnolia Health, who gave $206,255.