POLITICS

Louisiana Lawmakers Pass 6-Week Abortion Ban

The so-called fetal heartbeat bill now goes to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is expected to sign the so-called fetal heartbeat restriction on abortion rights
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is expected to sign the so-called fetal heartbeat restriction on abortion rights.

The Louisiana House approved a measure on Wednesday that would outlaw abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even realize they have conceived.

Lawmakers voted 79-23 on the legislation that prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy ― or about two weeks after a missed period. It does not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, despite an emotional debate on both sides of the aisle.

Doctors who violate the ban could face a prison sentence of up to two years and may lose their medical licenses.

The Louisiana Senate approved the measure earlier in May. It now goes to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, who has indicated he will sign it.

“I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me ― and I respect their opinions,” Edwards said in a statement Wednesday. “As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone.”

State Sen. John Milkovich, also a Democrat, sponsored the bill. In an interview last week with HuffPost, he said he was proud that Louisiana could be part of the wave of states passing anti-abortion legislation this year.  

“The abortion cartel is absolutely relentless in its agenda to destroy the youth of America in the womb,” he said in a phone call. “We must be infinitely more resolute, determined and steadfast in our efforts to take on the abortion industry and fight for the defenseless unborn.”

Anti-abortion lawmakers are hopeful that one of the new bans will spark a legal challenge that will make it to the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

His bill comes on the heels of four other states passing so-called fetal heartbeat bills this year: Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi. Missouri passed a similar bill that bans abortion at eight weeks. And in Alabama, lawmakers passed legislation to ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, except when the woman’s life is at serious risk.

Anti-abortion lawmakers are hopeful that one of the new bans will spark a legal challenge that will make it to the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

None of the bans have gone into effect yet, and all are expected to be blocked while they face legal challenges. The Louisiana ban includes a provision stating that it will only go into effect if and when a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.

The provision is intended to save the state unnecessary litigation costs. It was added over the objections of Milkovich, who wants the legislation promptly enacted.

“In my view, it is money well spent,” he said. “It is hard for me to think of any other more important expenditure the state makes than to defend Louisiana babies in the womb.”

Louisiana has only three abortion clinics remaining in the state, down from seven in 2011. Women who want an abortion in Louisiana must make multiple trips to the provider, have an ultrasound and sit through mandatory counseling. 

Katie Caldwell, the clinic coordinator at the Women’s Healthcare Center in New Orleans, called the legislation a slap in the face to pregnant people in Louisiana. 

“We feel confident that when given accurate information, people can make good decisions for themselves with their doctors,” she said. “It does not require government interference.”

Michelle Erenberg, the executive director of Lift Louisiana, a women’s advocacy group, said the bill’s passage reveals exactly what the state legislature is all about. 

“They want to control women and their bodies, forcing them to carry out pregnancies even when they are the result of rape or incest,” she said. “It reveals an indifference toward Louisiana women and shows women that the state cares little for them or their families.”

Sanjana Karanth contributed to this report.

This article has been updated with comment from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

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