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Louisiana House passes abortion criminalization bills — with no exceptions for rape or incest

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Kezia Setyawan
/
WWNO
House floor in Baton Rouge, LA

Louisiana House members voted overwhelmingly for a pair of abortion restrictions Thursday that would immediately shutter the state’s three abortion clinics and impose stiff criminal penalties for doctors who provide abortions and abortion drugs in person or remotely, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade later this month.

The legislation – which received overwhelming support from Republican lawmakers and a handful of Democrats – would not allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest. After Thursday’s votes, Senate Bill 342, which sharpens the teeth of the state’s 2006 trigger law by imposing high fines and prison time on doctors who perform the procedure, and Senate Bill 388, which criminalizes the sale of abortion pills through the mail, are just one step away from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.

Edwards, a Democrat who “unapologetically” opposes abortion rights, expressed disappointment that legislation did not include exceptions for rape or incest, but did not say he would veto the legislation in a press conference Thursday ahead of the vote.

“Vetoing the bill wouldn’t accomplish what I would like to have, which is the exceptions for rape and incest,” Edwards said.

Both bills now return to the Senate for the upper chamber to approve or reject significant amendments made in the House.

Each piece of legislation builds upon the Louisiana’s existing abortion restrictions.

Senate Bill 342

Senate Bill 342 by Sen. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) weaves together decades of prospective abortion restrictions tied to the overturning of Roe v. Wade — an action the Supreme Court is expected to take with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health by the end of the month.

The bill’s sponsors sought to simplify the approximately 100 abortion restrictions and regulations passed since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. The proposal, which was drafted and amended multiple times with the help of the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life, inserted new provisions into more than two dozen existing laws and codified penalties for providing abortions into the state’s criminal code.

The legislation provides for prison sentences of one to 10 years and fines up to $100,000 for abortion providers.

It includes language that explicitly exempts women from prosecution under the far-reaching legislation, but also expands the definition of personhood to begin at the moment of fertilization and implantation, which critics say could open abortion providers and patients alike to prosecution under the state’s homicide statutes.

Rep. Julie Emerson (R-Carencro), who presented the bill on the House floor for Jackson, sponsored pages of amendments that tripled the length of the bill and added some exemptions to the abortion ban that would allow the procedure for ectopic pregnancies and cases in which fetal abnormalities would make it impossible for a child to survive after birth. The bill requires that two doctors confirm the qualifying diagnosis in those scenarios.

The bill also allows for exceptions to save the life of the pregnant person.

The proposal, like the 2006 trigger law it amends, would not allow for abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Emerson fended off proposed amendments that would have allowed for abortions in cases of rape and incest, removed the potential prison sentences for abortion providers, required permission of just one physician to certify that a fetus has a condition incompatible with life, and expanded the exceptions to save the life of the mother to include mental health conditions.

Rep. Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), a staunch abortion rights supporter, opposed the bill on the House floor, saying the 49 years worth of abortion restrictions have not helped the women of the state of Louisiana, which ranks near the bottom for maternal mortality, maternal health and infant health.

“This has made political pawns of women’s bodies,” Landry said, citing the statistic that nearly one in four American women have had an abortion. “I know what’s going to happen today and I know what’s always going to happen here, but I just wish for once we would think about what we’re doing, how we keep hurting the same people — people we already know.”

The bill passed on a 72-24 vote with Democratic representatives Robby Carter (D-Amite), Chad Brown (D-Plaquemine), Mack Cormier (D-Belle Chasse), Travis Johnson (D-Vidalia) Jeremy Lacombe (D-Livonia) and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) voting with the Republican majority.

Rep. Mary Dubuisson (R-Slidell) was the only Republican to oppose the measure.

Senate Bill 388

Senate Bill 388 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) adds criminal penalties to a 2020 law that prohibits the mailing of the abortion drugs mifepristone and misprostol.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that focuses on reproductive health care, the majority of abortions in the U.S. are performed with the two drug regimen. In a clinical setting, the first drug is administered under the supervision of a physician, and the second is given to the patient to take at home. The method is 95% effective and has less than a 0.5% chance of complications, and drugs are readily available online.

Demand for the remotely prescribed drugs is expected to soar in states like Louisiana with abortion trigger bans on the books, if Roe is overturned this year, and anti-abortion lawmakers across the country are clamping down on the practice. Existing Louisiana law and Hewitt’s proposal only criminalize the practice for providers.

Under the law, distributors and vendors would face a prison term of five to 10 years and fines ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 in most cases. If the patient seeking the drugs is under the age of 18, the prison sentence is increased to 15 to 50 years and fines max out at $100,000.

Critics of the bill in the Louisiana House said the state does not have the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and lacks the jurisdiction to pursue criminal convictions against out-of-state providers.

“I don’t know how you can stop it unless you’re waiting at the post office,” Landry said.

Rep. Laurie Schlegel (R-Metairie), who presented Hewitt’s bill on the House floor, said she had checked with state prosecutors who assured her the proposal was legal.

It passed with a 72-24 vote.

Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session Monday at 6 p.m. to finalize the bills.