Louisiana lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved two abortion restriction bills, including one proposed constitutional amendment.
Last week, legislators approved a bill banning abortion when there is a detectable heartbeat with no exceptions for rape or incest. Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed that measure.
House Bill 425 by Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat, allows voters to stipulate that no portion of the state constitution protects the right to an abortion or requires taxpayer funding of abortion. Anti-abortion lawmakers and activists want that point to be clear if Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, is overturned.
A Senate judiciary committee amended the bill to say elected officials retain the right to enact or repeal statutes regarding abortion, “including, but not limited to circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or termination of pregnancy to save the life of the mother." That amendment was removed by the House/Senate conference committee.
“Even if the law chooses to punish the man who raped you, you still have to carry his baby,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat who chairs the state party.
Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, said the amendment originally was added “out of an abundance of caution.” But lawmakers subsequently were told that they cannot “legislate through a constitutional amendment unless it’s in the ballot language,” and a proposal to include the amendment’s language on the ballot failed.
Nevertheless, Gatti said, the constitutional change would not stop lawmakers from adding exceptions later.
Democrats succeeded in their effort to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 presidential ballot, rather than this year’s state election ballot. Rep. Jackson said she wanted to make sure it was considered during the highest possible turnout election. Republicans asked whether there was another reason, saying they expected it to pass regardless of turnout, but Jackson didn’t offer other explanations.
Also Wednesday, lawmakers approved House Bill 133, which expands the definition of abortion from only surgical procedures to include those induced by medicine. The change would require women to travel to one of the state’s three outpatient abortion facilities to obtain a medical abortion.
Currently, women can obtain the drugs necessary for a medication abortion from an OB/GYN or family medicine doctor, Peterson said. She said the method is typically used very early in a pregnancy during the small window that now will be allowed by the state’s “heartbeat” bill.
“The intent [of the bill] is to limit access to legal abortion,” Peterson said.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, the West Monroe Republican who presented the bill in the Senate, said it would not apply to the “morning after” pill, which is available over the counter without a prescription. Under the bill, miscarriages no longer will be called “abortions” in patient records, he said.