As of Sept. 14, IDS readers voted abortion access as one of their top political issues.
Indiana Senate Bill 1, which bans abortion except in the case of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies or risk to the life of the pregnant person, goes into effect Sept. 15. The bill comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Thomas McDermott, Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator and mayor of Hammond, Indiana, visited Bloomington on Sept. 14, the night before the bill went into effect.
IDS: How has your experience as mayor affected you as a candidate for Senate?
McDermott: I’ve been mayor for 19 years. Over the years, I’ve had to represent many competing causes. I’ve had to run the City of Hammond. Being mayor, when someone walks into my office with a problem, I don’t ask him what party affiliation they are before I fix it — I just fix it. That’s what mayors do.
What’s going on right now (in the Senate) is just a lot of finger-pointing, and nobody’s getting the job done. We need to take the can-do attitude of a mayor’s office, bring it to Washington D.C. and start working for the American people.
IDS: If elected, you’ll be working alongside Republicans in a historically Republican state. What does that kind of bipartisanship look like for you?
McDermott: Some of my heroes are the most bipartisan senators that I know. I didn’t grow up watching Joe Donnelly, but he’s one of my good friends, and I think he was an amazing Hoosier senator. They did the bipartisan index of the U.S. Senate when he was there, and he was literally number 50 senator, perfectly in the middle. I think that’s where you should be, willing to work with whatever party as long as it makes sense for the state you’re from.
I think that you’ve got to be loyal to your state, and you’ve got to be loyal to your country. And then, of course, you’re still part of a party, but party has become more important than country even, nowadays, and that’s got to go.
IDS: Today is Sept. 14. Tomorrow, when this article publishes, abortion ban Senate Bill 1 goes into place. What do you want to say to Indiana women tonight?
McDermott: I’m sorry about what’s going on in America. It’s shocking. It’s completely, stunningly unexpected. I started campaigning a year ago, and if you had told me a year ago that Roe v. Wade would be overturned one year later, I would have thought that was not possible because of the precedent established by the U.S. Supreme Court. I never saw this day coming. I can’t believe it actually happened, and for Indiana to be the first state thereafter to pass a near-total abortion ban is sad. It’s embarrassing, and it needs to be changed.
I want to state emphatically that when I become Indiana’s next U.S. senator, I’ll know why I got there. I got there because women elected me, and women are outraged at what’s happening to them and their reproductive liberties. I’m going to go to Washington, D.C. with a mission, and that mission is to protect women’s civil liberties and to reverse the damage that’s been done by the Dobbs decision.
IDS: Do you have any specific actions that you’re planning on taking?
McDermott: I believe Roe v. Wade worked, and I don’t think too many women were asking for more liberties than were already granted. Now, they have far fewer civil liberties than Roe guaranteed. I would prefer turning back the clock six months, before Dobbs came out. I mean, Roe worked.
Related: [Meet the Monroe County candidates for State and Federal Congress]
One of the things I found as mayor is when you’re making a deal between parties that don’t agree on an issue and you come up with a solution, everybody at the table walks away and they’re a little bit upset — that’s usually the best deal you can make, where there’s no clear winner. We had 50 years of precedent established by Roe v. Wade, and it worked. Fifty years, and all of a sudden, it’s gone. Women are outraged, and they should be.
I think that Roe v. Wade worked, and I realize there needs to be some limitations, but Roe worked. I think we should try to codify Roe v. Wade. That’s what I’ve talked about on the campaign trail is codifying, federally, Roe v. Wade. Senate Republicans are going the opposite way: they want a 15-week abortion ban instituted in federal law, which would obviously apply to states like Illinois, California and Oregon, where abortion is legal still.
IDS: The IDS is for Bloomington residents, but it’s also IU’s student paper, and IU is 50% female. What would you say to IU students, women in particular, about the incoming ban?
McDermott: Talking to IU women, talking to Hoosier women: Todd Young in 2016 told us who he was when he was running for you guys. He said he is pro-life, no exceptions. Then, he became a U.S. senator, and he had three justices presented to him for confirmation to the Supreme Court: Justice Kavanaugh, with all the allegations of sexual harassment hanging over his head, Todd Young voted yes for him. Justice Gorsuch, Todd Young voted yes for him. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Todd Young voted yes. There was a litmus test on all three of those justices. The litmus test was “you’re pro-life,” and they got in there and they overturned Roe v. Wade. Todd Young told us what he was going to do and he did it, and there’s got to be repercussions for that. If there aren’t repercussions, what’s next?
IDS: You’re married and you have a family. Does being a husband and a father affect the way you see the issue of abortion?
McDermott: It definitely does. Obviously, we’re not having kids anymore … we’re done with that. But it’s weird for me to think my daughter has fewer civil liberties than my wife and my mother had. It’s outrageous to me. I’m a husband, and I’m a brother to three sisters. I’m a father to a daughter. So I’m outraged for them, and that’s why I think it’s imperative for men to get involved in this debate. I think it’s imperative because we all have daughters, we all have wives and mothers. For the first time in American history, the U.S. Supreme Court took away civil liberties, and that’s outrageous.
IDS: Apart from what you’ve said about codifying Roe, what would you as a senator do to preserve abortion access?
McDermott: We have to reverse the damage that’s been done to the U.S. Supreme Court. So that opens the question of: “Are we going to expand the size of the Supreme Court?” which I think has to be discussed — because the damage is done.
If we had Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court right now, Dobbs would have been a 5-4 loser. But because the GOP cheated, and Merrick Garland is not on the court, we have Barrett, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh instead. Now we have a 5-4 Dobbs opinion and Roe v. Wade overturned. You guys are losing your civil liberties tomorrow; it’s because of the Supreme Court. As a U.S. senator, I’d be confirming justices on the court. I’m open-minded to expanding the court, maybe to two more justices.
IDS: If you had to name one issue as your top priority issue facing Hoosiers right now, what would you say?
McDermott: Women are losing their civil liberties tomorrow, that’s the top issue. And I know I’ve talked about it a lot, but it is the top issue. And there are other issues that are important, obviously, I think global warming. It’s happening. I’m proud that America recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, and we’re making the biggest investment in green energy in the history of our country. I’m proud of that. But it is one of the top problems in America right now.
Another issue that’s very important, I’m trying to think. There are so many. Obviously, inflation, cost of college, there’s so many issues that are important. Gun control: the number of mass shootings is unacceptable. Automatic weapons, military-style assault weapons on the streets of Hammond is unacceptable.
It’s scary right now. I’ve been alive 53 years and we’re in the toughest spot I’ve ever seen in our country in my lifetime. And I think it’s time for us to change the people we send to D.C. so we can change the direction of our country.
CORRECTION: Justice Brett Kavanaugh's name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.