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Louisiana lawmakers send abortion criminalization bill to Gov. Edwards without rape or incest exceptions

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Paul Braun / WRKF
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Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-Louisiana).

Louisiana lawmakers approved legislation that would – if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer – immediately shutter the state’s three abortion clinics, ban the procedure in nearly all pregnancies after the moment of “fertilization and implantation” and impose stiff criminal penalties on doctors who perform the procedure. Under the law, there would be no exceptions for rape or incest.

It now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is expected to sign the legislation.

With a final procedural vote Sunday, the Louisiana Senate signed off on sweeping amendments made by the state’s House of Representatives that tripled the length of the bill and added requirements a pregnant person must meet to obtain an abortion in the few scenarios in which the procedure would be allowed under the bill.

The legislation updates the state’s 2006 abortion trigger ban and dozens of other abortion restrictions that could be implemented if the Supreme Court ends constitutional protections for abortions.

Edwards, a Democrat who “unapologetically” opposes abortion rights, told reporters last week that he was disappointed that the legislation did not include exceptions in cases of rape and incest, but said his veto pen cannot undo years of trigger laws and prospective abortion restrictions passed by Louisiana lawmakers that would not allow for rape and incest exceptions.

“I really don’t want to go anywhere near veto language on the bill, because vetoing wouldn’t accomplish what I’m saying I would like to have, and that is the exceptions for rape and incest,” Edwards said.

During his time as governor, Edwards has not shied away from signing some of the nation’s most extreme abortion restrictions, including legislation that lacked exceptions for rape or incest.

In 2019, he signed a so-called “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions after six weeks of gestation, and in 2018 he signed a 15-week abortion ban modeled after the Mississippi law at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Neither bill allowed for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

The bill’s sponsors, who worked closely with the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life, sought to simplify and strengthen the approximately 100 abortion restrictions and regulations the state has passed since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. The proposal inserted new provisions into more than two dozen existing laws and inserted penalties for providing abortions into the state’s criminal code.

The legislation would allow the state to imprison doctors for up to 15 years and fine them up to $200,000 for performing abortions.

It includes language that explicitly exempts patients from prosecution under the “crime of abortion” statute, but critics say the way the bill would expand the legal definition of personhood could put abortion providers and patients alike in jeopardy under the state’s homicide statutes.

The proposal, like the 2006 trigger law it amends, allows for abortions to end pregnancies that physically threaten the life of the mother. The House added language last week that would also allow for abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies and in cases where a fetus has abnormalities incompatible with life outside the womb. Critics pointed out that the requirements, which require diagnoses from two separate physicians, could make it difficult too difficult for many pregnant people to secure a timely abortion and may force them to carry their medically futile pregnancies to term.

Last week, the bill’s sponsors added language to clarify that those protections do not extend to pregnant people in a mental health crisis, including those who explicitly say that they will take actions to end their life if they are unable to end their pregnancy.

On several occasions, the bill’s sponsors fended off amendments that would have simplified the process for obtaining an abortion for medically futile pregnancies, removed possible prison sentences for providers, and allowed for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.