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Wednesday, November 13, 2019



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Analysis: Abortion limits embraced by Louisiana lawmakers

Analysis: Abortion limits embraced by Louisiana lawmakers


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — While abortion rights disputes cause fierce arguments around the nation, they create little obvious friction among Louisiana lawmakers, who regularly heap additional restrictions on the procedure and who appear poised to adopt more limits this session.

Efforts to toughen constraints on abortion and find new ways to strike at the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion win the backing of Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana's legislature. Few lawmakers cast votes in objection, and those who do often put up little public opposition.

Passage of the country's most restrictive law against abortion roiled the Alabama legislature. Missouri Democrats attacked an advancing measure seeking to ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. And angry Democratic lawmakers in Georgia handed out wire coat hangers, referencing unsafe home abortions, in opposition to a successfully passed bill to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy.

But in Louisiana, anti-abortion bills aren't nearly so polarizing among lawmakers.

The measures often are sponsored by Democrats, they're signed into law by a Democratic governor and the opposition during debate doesn't tend to come from legislators. Of five proposals this session adding new restrictions on abortion, the two most sweeping bills are sponsored by Democrats, including Louisiana's version of the "heartbeat bill."

There was little debate when the Senate passed the proposal by Democratic Sen. John Milkovich in a 31-5 vote. It awaits consideration on the House floor and is expected to reach Gov. John Bel Edwards, who said he'll sign the bill into law, though it wouldn't take effect unless Mississippi's similar law is upheld by a federal appeals court. The only exception to the ban would be when the woman's health is at serious risk.

"This is an important statement of Louisiana's devotion to protecting the unborn," said Milkovich, of Keithville.

Opponents said the bill would effectively eliminate abortion as an option before many women realize they are pregnant. Amy Irvin, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, which gives financial help to women who can't afford the procedure, called the measure "political posturing" and said it denies women their right to self-determination.

But even a raucous protest of the ban at Louisiana's Capitol drew only a handful of bill opponents.

Maybe it's that Louisiana lawmakers have passed so many laws annually aimed at lessening access to abortion that abortion rights supporters feel a trip to argue against such measures is futile. Maybe those advocating for abortion access realize that the true battle rests in the courts.

Public opinion polls show that Louisiana residents are more conservative and more religious than the nation as a whole, and less likely to favor abortion rights. A 2016 survey done by Louisiana State University's Public Policy Research Lab showed 55 percent of respondents said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

"The people of Louisiana are overwhelmingly pro-life," Edwards said Thursday.

Beyond the ban proposal, four other measures striking at abortion are moving through the Louisiana Legislature, on track to reach the governor's desk.

Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe is sponsoring legislation asking Louisiana voters to amend the state constitution to say it doesn't protect abortion rights, similar to language adopted in five other states.

Another bill would require women seeking an abortion in Louisiana to get lengthy background information about the doctor performing the procedure. Another would limit where medication-induced abortions — administered through pills that induce miscarriage at early stages of pregnancy — can be handled to Louisiana's three licensed abortion clinics.

A final measure would lengthen the time that abortion clinics and doctors who perform the procedure must retain patient records, with hefty penalties for violations. Bossier City Republican Rep. Raymond Crews and Attorney General Jeff Landry's office said the longer retention period would help combat human trafficking by having records available to investigators.

Linda Hawkins, with the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, called that claim "bogus." She said the bill sought to stoke fear in women seeking an abortion and their doctors.

Shortly thereafter, the Senate health committee advanced the proposal without objection.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte