After tense debate, Louisiana Scraps plans to classify abortion as homicide

After tense debate, Louisiana Scraps plans to classify abortion as homicide

Louisiana lawmakers on Thursday torpedoed a law that would have made abortion a homicide, overwhelmingly rejecting a wide-ranging proposal that would allow prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against women who terminate pregnancies.

The measure was one of the most aggressive new restrictions on reproductive rights that conservative state lawmakers across the country had considered, as the Supreme Court appeared poised to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.

But ultimately the legislature stuck to a line that has long been a line for many in the anti-abortion movement, who have resisted achieving criminal justice for women who have abortions. The bill dissolved before it went to the final vote on Thursday after an amendment that essentially dissolved it was broadly approved by the House of Representatives.

Louisiana is a deeply conservative state where elected officials — including the Democratic governor — have backed even the toughest restrictions on abortion access. That proposal fell through, however, as some of the state’s most influential anti-abortion advocates went into opposition, criticizing the legislation as a misguided effort that came with a number of dangerous consequences, including a potential curtailment of treatment for women who miscarried.

“Pro-life legislation is flying off this ground with little to no opposition and has been for decades,” Alan Seabaugh, the Republican representative behind the amendment, said during the debate on the legislation, which became tense and personal. He and another critic accused the bill’s sponsor, Danny McCormick, of not understanding the substance of the bill and its potential implications.

“This law will not prevent a single abortion from taking place – not one,” said Mr. Seabaugh, adding that if the law were to pass as written, “it will be ordered the next day because Roe v. Wade is still the law of the country.”

“It’s not a law!” cried supporters of the bill, seated in the stands.

“Liar!” some of them screamed.

After the amendment passed, Mr. McCormick, a Republican, moved to remove the bill from the House calendar, preventing a final vote.

The bill advanced in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives after it passed a 7-2 committee vote last week. It gained momentum after a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion showed a majority of justices were in favor of Roe v. Wade to reverse the landmark 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion.

Louisiana is one of about a dozen states with a so-called trigger law that would quickly make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade would be undone. However, supporters of the new proposal argued that the trigger law does not go far enough and pushed for the bill, which defines personality as beginning at the moment of fertilization.

“We want equal protection for all people, and we believe that life begins at conception,” said Jeff Durbin, a pastor who traveled from Arizona with members of his congregation on Thursday to cheer the proposal.

The legislation prompted an immediate backlash from activists in support of access to abortion. Critics condemned it as “reckless” and predicted devastating consequences that would extend beyond abortion, arguing that it would criminalize in vitro fertilization and some forms of contraception.

Mimi Spiehler, 39, drove with two friends from New Orleans to the Capitol to speak out against the bill.

“I know how hard it is to be a mom and I wanted my kids,” she said. “We shouldn’t force women to have them.”

Ms. Spiehler said she was once 10 weeks pregnant when she learned the fetus had not survived. However, her body did not recognize the pregnancy loss and did not expel the pregnancy tissue, requiring medical intervention. “Had this happened after this law was passed,” she said, “I would not have had access to this necessary healthcare.”

Opposition to the proposal had grown beyond normal limits in the reproductive rights debate, with major concerns raised by some of Louisiana’s most prominent anti-abortion leaders. One group, Louisiana Right to Life, said in a statement that “our longstanding policy is that women at risk of abortion should not be treated as criminals.”

Critics from across the political spectrum also noted that the bill would have prompted judges and law enforcement officials in Louisiana to rule Roe v. Simply ignoring Wade or other federal decisions that went against the legislation.

“Your bill clearly violates the separation of powers doctrine,” Republican congressman Barry Ivey said to Mr. McCormick during the plenary debate, asking if he accepted it. Mr. McCormick did not answer him directly.

“It’s okay if you don’t understand,” Mr. Ivey replied. “You wouldn’t have brought this if you did.”

Governor John Bel Edwards signaled his opposition on Wednesday, calling the law “manifestly unconstitutional.”

“To suggest that a woman is being jailed for having an abortion is simply absurd,” Edwards said in a separate statement on Wednesday. “This legislation is radical and goes well beyond mere pro-life.”

Mr. Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. But he has a history of passionate support for anti-abortion laws, such as a state law that bans abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, anytime after fetal heart activity has been detected — a move that many of his own disgruntled party .

Still, prosecuting anti-abortion advocates has remained a frontier that many anti-abortion advocates did not want to cross. The strength of this line was underscored when Donald J. Trump was attacked during his presidential campaign for saying that women who want an abortion should be subjected to “some form of punishment.” He later retracted his statement. “The woman in this case is a victim, as is life in her womb,” Mr Trump said.

But supporters of the legislation in Louisiana were defiant when their bill met opposition. They claimed that regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, an urgent effort was needed to stop access to abortion in Louisiana. Their logic: the states would have taken other steps that contradict federal law. Abortion, they said, should be no different.

Presenting the law on Thursday, Mr McCormick urged his colleagues to follow their moral compass. He argued that this does not affect access to contraception or in vitro fertilization and that he believed the proposal would protect women considering abortion.

“We face a moral and ethical choice,” McCormick said on the House floor. “Politics should never decide who lives and who dies – not in America.”

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