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Louisiana Legislature won’t let voters reconsider abortion ban


Louisiana Legislature won’t let voters reconsider abortion ban

Mar 25, 2024 | 11:27 pm ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
Louisiana Legislature won’t let voters reconsider abortion ban
Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, introduced legislation to restore abortion access in Louisiana. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

State lawmakers voted down a proposal Monday that would have let voters decide whether to enshrine the right to reproductive services — including abortion, contraception and fertility treatment — in the state constitution. 

The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure rejected with a 10-2 vote a constitutional amendment that would have reinstated abortion access in Louisiana. It also sought to protect people’s ability to obtain birth control, in vitro fertilization and other pregnancy health care. 

“I’m not pro-abortion. I’m pro-letting women decide about their own pregnancies with the medical advice of their physicians and their families,” said state Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, the sponsor of the legislation. 

Lawmakers who opposed the proposal took issue with the abortion section of the proposal. 

“This is not health care when we are taking the life of children,” Rep. Emily Chenevert, R-Baton Rouge, said before voting against it. “At the end of the day, abortion is ending the life of a child.”

“What you are saying is the life of a child is dispensable,” Rep. John Wyble, R-Franklinton, told former state Rep. Melissa Flournoy, an abortion rights advocate, during discussion of the measure. 

Had it made it out of the committee, Freeman’s legislation would still have had to gain support from two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature and voter approval on a statewide ballot.

Lawmakers have not been willing to weaken the state’s strict abortion ban since it went into effect in 2022.  

Abortion rights advocates argue the ban has been bad for pregnant people’s health. Hospitals and doctors are withholding and delaying pregnancy care out of fear of criminal prosecution – and possible jail time for physicians – if they run afoul of the abortion restrictions, they said.

Since the prohibition went into effect, women experiencing miscarriages have been put through unnecessary Cesarean sections so doctors and hospitals can avoid using abortions to resolve failing pregnancies, according to a study commissioned by four abortion rights groups.

Medical professionals and hospitals are also reluctant to treat pregnant people during the first trimester, the study concluded. The risk of miscarriage – and the need to use abortion procedures to deal with a nonviable pregnancy – are much higher in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

Yet in spite of this report, no doctors or other medical professionals testified in favor of Freeman’s legislation during Monday’s hearing. Louisiana’s hospital systems were also silent on the measure – not coming out for or against it.

The only person with a medical background to speak on the proposal during the hearing was Kim Hardy, a Louisiana-based obstetrician and longtime anti-abortion activist. He opposed the proposal. 

Michelle Erenberg, with the abortion rights group Lift Louisiana, told the committee clinicians are afraid to talk about the negative effect of the abortion ban on health care because they fear being targeted by anti-abortion activists or receiving blowback from their employers.

Anti-abortion advocates who showed up at the hearing also described Freeman’s measure as extreme.

“This would ensure abortion would be legal up until the moment of birth,” said Ben Clapper, the executive director of Louisiana Right to Life. 

Louisiana voters weighed in on the abortion issue relatively recently. They approved an amendment in 2020 that barred the right to abortion from ever going into the state constitution. It passed with 62% of the vote. 

Support for abortion access may have grown in Louisiana since that time, however. The voters approved the amendment before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision and shutdown abortion access in the state. 

In 2016, 55% of people who responded to an annual LSU poll said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. But by 2023, that number dropped to 44%.

Abortion rights advocates have also been successful across the country when they’ve put abortion rights on the ballot. 

Over the past two years, six states have put abortion-rights-related constitutional amendments before the voters – and all have been successful

There are now efforts to get constitutional amendments that provide abortion rights protections underway in 13 other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and South Dakota, according to KFF, a health care policy research organization.

Louisiana legislators aren’t done yet considering abortion and contraception policy in their current session either. There are at least seven other bills about abortion and birth control that have been filed.

They include proposals to allow for more abortion access to deal with a medical emergency or to terminate pregnancies that result from rape and incest. Two other bills would enshrine the right to contraception in state law.

Correction: This story originally said three abortion rights groups sponsored a study about Louisiana’s abortion ban. It is actually four organizations.