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Louisiana House to debate constitutional measure on abortion

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana voters would decide whether to amend the state constitution to say it doesn’t protect abortion rights, if lawmakers back a proposal that started advancing Tuesday in the House.

The anti-abortion proposal , sponsored by Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, could become important if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Supporters of the measure, including Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, say if states get to determine whether abortion is allowed, courts couldn’t cite the state constitution to keep Louisiana from banning or limiting the procedure. The decision would rest with lawmakers, who already have enacted a state statute outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“It doesn’t change one thing about abortion law. Now and in the future, it leaves it in your hands,” Dorinda Bordlee, an anti-abortion attorney who supports the measure, told the House committee.

Abortion rights supporters objected to the legislation, saying it aims to disrupt a woman’s ability to make decisions about her body, her health care and her future.

Attorney Laura Fine, who provides pro bono legal representation for minors seeking an abortion, said the language added to the constitution “would lay the groundwork to take away the right to an abortion in Louisiana.” She said the state already has enacted “countless hurdles” to access, with only three abortion clinics in the state and many laws limiting the procedure.

The new language in the constitution would read: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

The House civil law committee agreed without objection to send the bill to the full House for debate, with Jackson saying she hoped to schedule a House floor discussion next week. The constitutional change would require support from two-thirds of lawmakers and a majority of voters in the Oct. 12 election for adoption.

“We think that’s something that the Louisiana voters should have a right to have their voices heard on,” said Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, who testified in favor of the legislation.

Shreveport Rep. Sam Jenkins, a Democrat, didn’t object to advancing the proposal, but he asked Jackson to consider including language about exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

“I have some concerns about the language,” he said.

Jackson, who has advocated nationally for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, said if the federal protection for abortion rights was reversed, Louisiana lawmakers “would have the opportunity to pass exceptions in state law.”

Five states have adopted similar constitutional language, including Alabama and Arkansas, according to anti-abortion organization Louisiana Right to Life, which calls Jackson’s proposal the “Love Life Constitutional Amendment.”

House Bill 425: www.legis.la.gov