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  • Writer's pictureTeam Heidi for Indiana

Abortion rights will be key issue in St. Joseph County state representative race

by Ed Semmler, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND ― Heidi Beidinger has devoted her career to public health issues as a professor at the University of Notre Dame and as a member of the St. Joseph County Board of Health.

But it was the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and the current effort to further limit abortion rights in Indiana that led to her decision to face off against Republic State Rep. Dale DeVon for the District 5 seat he’s held since 2012. “Women fought tooth and nail for these rights, and now they’re being stolen,” Beidinger said. “I have two daughters and I don’t want them to grow up without the same choices that I had.”

Beidinger was one of four top health department officials who recently issued a letter encouraging the public to “share their views on women’s reproductive health, pregnancy, and abortion with their state representatives and senators.” The letter went on to say that the department “believes that women, their partners and families and medical professionals must maintain the authority to make the judgment surrounding the need for termination of a pregnancy under exceptional circumstances to protect the lives of women and prevent an increase in maternal morbidity and mortality.”

The health department was subsequently criticized in a letter signed by county Commissioner Deb Fleming who said that Beidinger and the other three officials who issued the release did so without the knowledge of the commissioners or even a vote of its own board.

Beidinger, who serves as board president, said the release was no different than any other public health statement and that its purpose was to inform the public about the debate going on in Indianapolis and what it could mean for women and their families. Though Beidinger says she was motivated to jump into the race against Devon because of concerns about women’s reproductive rights, she said she had been thinking about getting into politics because of concerns she has about numerous public health issues in Indiana.

DeVon, who also operates a home-building business, did not return calls seeking comment. The past two elections, he has defeated Democrat Don Westerhausen, a retired cardiologist who is now running for county commissioner.

Beidinger, who launched her campaign Thursday, has also been involved in the community through her work on the Notre Dame Lead Innovation Team, which seeks to identify and mitigate the risk of lead-based paint, flakes and dust that can often be found in and around older homes.

But Indiana is also one of the worst states for air and water quality, infant mortality and a host of other public health issues, she said. At the same time, costs for health care and utilities continue to increase at an alarming pace.

“What has Dale DeVon done in the last 10 years to improve the lives of those in the district?” she asked.

The District 5 seat extends along the eastern side of St. Joseph County from Granger down to Mishawaka.

Though the area typically votes Republican, Beidinger hopes there are enough people who believe the state is going too far in restricting abortion rights and would like a representative who cares about that and many other issues they’re facing. And even with Republicans dominating the Indiana House and Senate, Beidinger believes she can still be effective by building coalitions across party lines on issues that affect all Hoosiers.

“Polls show that the overwhelming majority of us — across political party, gender, class, and race — want autonomy over our bodies and access to life saving medical care when we need it,” she added in a release. “The vast majority of us also want to see background checks for gun ownership, so we can be safer from the wave of gun violence rending our nation.”

DeVon and Beidinger will face off in the November general election. Beidinger said she will start canvassing door-to-door beginning Aug. 6.


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