By Lauren Heffker and Tryfon Boukouvidis
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Legislation that would limit or ban abortion in Louisiana easily cleared House and Senate committees on Wednesday, echoing a surge of similar bills in Republican-controlled legislatures in the South.
Pro-choice advocates protested the bills inside the state Capitol. The protests led to several arrests after demonstrators poured fake blood onto the marble floors in Memorial Hall.
The House Health and Welfare Committee advanced a controversial proposal that would outlaw the abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat, which usually occurs around six weeks.
The “fetal heartbeat” bill, sponsored by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, has received bipartisan support and was approved last week by the Senate. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat running for re-election, has publicly supported it.
In March, Edwards said he would be inclined to sign the bill into law.
“States across the nation are saying, ‘We are no longer going to devalue life,” Milkovich said. “We are going to acknowledge the sanctity of human life.’”
Pro-life advocates, including the Louisiana Right to Life group, spoke in favor of the bill.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle championed the proposed law one day after the Alabama Legislature passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.
The Alabama bill outlaws abortions at every stage of pregnancy, without exemptions for rape and incest victims. It also charges doctors who perform the procedure with a felony that carries up to a 99-year sentence. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey for final approval.
Louisiana’s proposed bill is modeled after a similar Mississippi law that is being debated in a federal appeals court.
Louisiana would follow several states who have already authorized similar bans. In addition to Alabama, legislatures in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia and Florida have introduced bills to implement six-week abortion bans.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to block a Louisiana law that prohibited doctors without admitting privileges to nearby hospitals from performing abortions.
In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortions nationally under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
“I think this committee is going to overwhelmingly support this legislation because we believe in the right to life,” Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, said.
Critics of the bill raised concerns that it would be too restrictive. Amy Irvin, executive director of New Orleans Abortion Funds, a pro-choice group, said the bill would ban abortions before most women would even know they are pregnant. That is usually around six to eight weeks.
“This abortion ban would rob Louisianians of the most personal decision, which is whether, when and how to become a parent,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, a women’s health organization. “This is an intimate choice with no place for politicians.”
Milkovich’s bill moves to the House floor for what is expected to be the final legislative approval before it heads to the governor’s desk.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee also advanced bills Wednesday to restrict access to abortion by expanding requirements for outpatient abortion facilities to retain medical records and by modifying regulations to limit access to drug-induced abortions.
One of the bills, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chair Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, would change the regulations on outpatient abortion facilities to include chemical abortions.
“This is a very simple pro-life bill,” Hoffman said, explaining that licensing for regulation in outpatient abortion facilities includes surgical abortions only. “But chemical abortions are also abortions, and they are increasing,” he said.
Dorinda Bordlee, vice president and senior counsel of Bioethics Defense Fund, said the bill would not apply to the morning-after and other birth control pills.
Ellie Schilling, an attorney representing healthcare providers in Louisiana, called the bill “particularly concerning.”
Schilling argued that the purpose of the bill is “to drastically reduce the number of places where it is legal to obtain an abortion,” forcing women to travel to one of the three locations in Louisiana that provide abortions.
Also in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, presented the bill to expand the rules for abortion facilities to retain medical records of women who received abortions there.
The bill also would extend such requirements from physicians and medical directors to owners of abortion facilities.
Linda Hawkins, the healthcare chair of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, called the proposal an “overreach.”
Schilling argued that the bill is “being sold under a false premise,” as it intends to curb abortion under the claim that it would assist prosecution of human trafficking.
“The bill is not a human trafficking bill,” Hawkins said, “there are existing laws in the books for that.”
Hunter Lovell contributed to this report.