Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed a bill into law Tuesday night that bans the dilation and evacuation procedure, the safest and most common method of abortion for women in their second trimester of pregnancy.
About 10 percent of women seeking abortions do so after 12 weeks of pregnancy, when medication abortions -- the ones that require a regimen of oral pills instead of a surgery -- are far less likely to be safe and effective.
In about 96 percent of second-trimester abortions, doctors recommend the dilation and evacuation procedure, commonly referred to as "D&E" or "surgical abortion," which involves the doctor manually pulling the fetal tissue from the cervix. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a medical research organization that supports reproductive rights, about 4 percent of women experience medical complications from a D&E procedure in the second trimester, while 29 percent of women experience complications from medication abortions at that point in their pregnancies.
The Louisiana law, called the "Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act," will likely force doctors to use an abortion method associated with a higher rate of medical complications on women after their first trimester. Women in the state already have to wait 72 hours to have an abortion after meeting with the doctor. Abortions performed later in a pregnancy are riskier, and the new policy only increases the potential dangers.
“Louisiana women already face countless obstacles when they have made the decision to end a pregnancy, and these measures will only drive safe, legal, high-quality care out of reach for many women," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group that fights anti-abortion laws around the world.
The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Mike Johnson (R), said Louisiana takes issue with the abortion method because it's inhumane to the fetus. "This legislation is a statement about who we are as a people," he said in a statement after Edwards signed the bill. "In Louisiana, we believe every human life is valuable and worthy of protection, and no civil society should allow its unborn children to be ripped apart. Incredible as it seems, we needed a law to say that. We have it now.”
The law will likely not stand up to a legal challenge, because the Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot put an undue burden on a woman's ability to have a safe and legal abortion before the fetus would be viable outside the womb, or around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Courts in Kansas and Oklahoma have already blocked measures that are similar to the Louisiana law.
Doctors groups have strongly condemned the legislation. In a legal brief opposing the Kansas measure, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote that banning the D&E procedure would endanger women seeking abortions and “could have broad sweeping consequences for public health."
"If legislatures are permitted to criminalize accepted, safe, and recommended medical procedures," the group wrote, "such interference will erode the very nature of the patient-physician relationship."