Abortion,  Mitch Daniels,  President 2012

President 2012: Abortion Bill Key to Mitch Daniels Run for Presidency?

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, left, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice watch the first half of a women’s NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball game between Texas A&M and Stanford in Indianapolis, Sunday, April 3, 2011

Apparently so.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted 66-32 on Wednesday to approve a controversial bill tightening the state’s abortion restrictions and cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a potential presidential candidate who has yet to comment publicly on the politically sensitive legislation.

Daniels has seven days to take action on the bill, and has three options once it arrives on his desk: 1) Sign the bill into law; 2) Veto the bill; 3) Do nothing, and allow the bill to become law after seven days without taking a stance.

Daniels’ decision on signing the bill will likely provide the clearest indication yet of which way he’s leaning on a presidential bid. If he signs it, Daniels can proudly tout two blockbuster legislative achievements — the abortion bill, along with his recently passed landmark education reform bill — and enter the Republican primary with two significant ideological victories under his belt, providing him an incredible running start in the slow-developing contest.

If he vetoes the bill, Daniels effectively confirms the suspicions of social conservatives who cringe at the idea of compromising on sensitive issues like abortion — and in doing so, provides the strongest indication yet that he’s putting state governance over presidential politics.

The legislation would introduce some of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion laws to the Hoosier State, including a provision that outlaws abortions performed after the fetus reaches 20 weeks — four weeks earlier than under current state law. Indiana would join Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma as the only states that outlaw abortions after 20 weeks.

A potential sticking point for Daniels, however, is the recent inclusion of a provision that cuts off funding for Planned Parenthood, the non-profit agency that provides reproductive health services to millions of women, including many of the state’s Medicaid patients. Roughly half of Indiana births are covered by Medicaid, and Planned Parenthood’s 28 state offices performed more than 5,500 abortions last year alone. Here’s where it gets tricky for Daniels: due to federal statutes that prohibit states from selectively allocating funds to agencies that serve Medicaid recipients, the measure could cost Indiana millions of federal Medicaid dollars if it becomes law.

Yet despite internal Republican concerns over the Planned Parenthood provision, which was tacked on by the state Senate and approved by the bill’s author, state Rep. Eric Turner (R), the bill passed on Wednesday with only slightly less support than last month, when the original version was approved by a 72-23 vote. The fight is far from over, however, as Planned Parenthood has indicated that it will seek an immediate injunction if and when the bill becomes law.

The bill provides a unique opportunity for Daniels, who will announce his presidential decision after the legislative session ends on Friday, to prove his social bona fides in the eyes of conservative voters who have viewed him with suspicion since he famously called for a “truce” on social issues in order to address the country’s fiscal crisis.

My bet is that Daniels signs the bill AND runs for the Presidency.

Of course, if Daniels vetoes the bill, his Presidential days are over and as a political director for Ronald Reagan’s White House, he knows the political calculus in Iowa and South Carolina.

But, Mitch has been pro-life throughout his career, so he could sign the legislation and then not run for the White House anyway.

Stay tuned as a lot is happening in the GOP Presidential field in the next week.