15-week abortion ban heads to governor, other abortion bills pass House

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An abortion rights proponent sits at Duncan Plaza at a 2017 rally supporting Planned Parenthood. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • An abortion rights proponent sits at Duncan Plaza at a 2017 rally supporting Planned Parenthood.

On one of the last days of their regular legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers voted to finally approve or hurry along several bills that are poised to constrict abortion access in the state.

Supporting a bill that already has stoked controversy and spurred heated opposition from women's advocates, the state Senate voted 24-1 May 16 to forward one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws to the governor's desk. Senate Bill 181 by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

As reported by The Advocate, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has often stated his opposition to abortion, said on his monthly radio call-in show that he leans toward signing the ban.

If signed, nothing will happen right away — SB 181 is set up to go into effect only if a similar law in Mississippi is upheld by the courts. But it will mean new developments in the story around the already-limited ability to get abortion in Louisiana, where restrictions — including a 24-hour waiting period, funding rules and ultrasound requirements, plus the availability of just three clinics — already compress and contort women's access to the procedure.

While similar bans on abortion before a fetus becomes viable outside the womb (thought to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy) have consistently been found to be unconstitutional, a fusillade of recent laws — including an Iowa "heartbeat" bill signed earlier this month banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — suggests abortion opponents do not consider the issue settled precedent.

Laws resembling Louisiana's existing ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have been struck down by courts in other states, including Idaho and Arizona.

The Louisiana House also voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 325, another Milkovich bill targeting abortion clinics. If signed into law, the bill will close down clinics if they are found to have destroyed records or have filled out forms in advance of patient visits with identifying information or a doctor's signature. 

Presenting the bill in the House, state Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, made its aims clear.

"Louisiana's been one of the top 'pro-life' states in the country for many years. This bill will help continue that situation," he said.

Senate Bill 534, another Milkovich-penned piece of legislation, passed the House on a 84-0  vote and returns to the Senate for concurrence. The bill defines criminal abortion, feticide and "aggravated criminal abortion by dismemberment" as "crimes of violence" and creates new penalties for an attempt to coerce a woman's abortion using physical force.

It's not immediately obvious what these new definitions mean, but abortion rights proponents generally oppose laws which imbue a fetus with additional legal rights (the so-called "personhood" debate.)

This session has featured several dramatic moments, especially in committee hearings, as lawmakers consider bills which could become hugely consequential for women of reproductive age. Advocates from women's groups including Women With a Vision, Lift Louisiana, New Orleans Abortion Fund and other groups have implored legislators not to pass this session's abortion bills, including in a May 2 committee hearing that pitted an all-female group of opponents against several male supporters of the 15-week ban.

"Everybody that came to this table today and spoke in favor of this bill was a man," remarked state Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, calling the juxtaposition "disturbing."

At that hearing, abortion clinic employee Angela Adkins urged lawmakers to remember the dangerous "hotel rooms and back alleys" women sought out before abortion was legalized, and where legislative crackdowns on abortion could ultimately lead.

"You will not stop abortion. Abortions have been in existence since women first began conceiving," she said. "The services that [clinics] provide for women are absolutely necessary." 

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