Louisiana will become the sixth state to prohibit a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, when the governor signs a bill that received final legislative passage Tuesday.
The measure by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, will ban a procedure called dilation and evacuation, known as D&E. The procedure will only be allowed if necessary to prevent “serious health risk” to the mother.
Similar laws have been passed in five other states, with anti-abortion groups describing the procedures as “dismemberment abortions.” State courts have blocked the laws in Kansas and Oklahoma.
A 36-2 Senate vote with no debate sent the measure to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said the governor intends to sign it.
Supporters have described the abortion method as “inhumane and barbaric.”
Opponents say that description isn’t medically accurate. They say the bill will criminalize the safest method of second-trimester abortion, leaving women at risk when they seek an alternative.
D&Es, or surgical abortions, are used in the majority of procedures in the second trimester – or after 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The organization says such abortions have fewer complications than procedures done with medication in the second trimester.
Under the bill, only the performing physician will be legally responsible and subject to penalties for violations of the ban, which could include loss of license. Violations also will carry a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine up to $1,000 per incident. In addition, civil damages could be sought by the woman who has the abortion and others.
Louisiana has repeatedly enacted abortion restrictions over the years with broad support across party lines. Earlier this session, lawmakers voted to make women wait 72 hours before they could have an abortion after meeting with the doctor and to toughen the criteria for doctors who perform abortions.
Edwards intends to sign both those bills into law.
But another restriction making its way through the Legislature ran into trouble Tuesday. The House-approved proposal to ban abortions performed in cases where the fetus is determined to have a genetic abnormality stalled in the Senate amid concerns it is unconstitutional.
Members of the Senate health care committee didn’t vote on the bill by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, saying they would like to see if they could rework the language.
Senators suggested they believed the current proposal could be deemed as running afoul of court decisions that uphold a woman’s right to an abortion. They questioned the definition of genetic abnormality. The bill includes a list of conditions, but also describes “any other type of physical, mental or intellectual disability, abnormality or disease.”
Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, said the state shouldn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend an unconstitutional law.
“If we cannot win, why are we doing this?” Luneau asked. “We can’t afford it. We’re broke.”
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a lawyer, said he wanted to be able to support the proposal. His concern wasn’t about the cost of defending the legislation, but about making sure he could comply with his oath of office swearing to uphold the constitution.
“Maybe I’m wasteful. I don’t mind spending money on this issue. I mind being a hypocrite,” he said.
Supporters of the bill said they didn’t believe it restricted a woman’s ability to have an abortion because it would penalize the doctor who violates the ban, not the woman. If convicted, a doctor could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and could face malpractice claims and a wrongful death lawsuit.
Gene Mills, president of the conservative Louisiana Family Forum, said while there may not be case law specific to the restriction proposed, “that doesn’t mean that this won’t be tested successfully.”
Edmonds said he would work to try to find a compromise and bring the bill back for another Senate committee hearing next week. But it wasn’t clear if senators thought acceptable language could be found.