Senate panel advances three-day waiting period for abortions in Louisiana; House approves effort that could defund Planned Parenthood _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, far right, talks with Deanna Wallace of Louisiana Right To Life, after each testified in favor of his HB 386, which would require women in Louisiana to wait three days before getting an abortion, as opponents Amy Irvin, far left, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, and Alison Lutz, with Medical Students For Choice, testify against the bill in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at the State Capitol. The bill made it out of committee on a 5-2 vote, and now heads to the full Senate, If approved, would place Louisiana among the states with the longest mandatory abortion waiting periods.

Louisiana lawmakers are advancing anti-abortion measures that would give the state one of the nation’s longest mandatory waiting periods and eliminate state funding for any group that provides abortions — even if that money would go only toward unrelated services.

Both proposals won overwhelming support when they reached their latest hurdles at the State Capitol on Wednesday.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted 5-2 for House Bill 386, which would require women in Louisiana to wait three days before getting an abortion — joining five other states with the nation’s longest wait time. The bill, which already has won House approval, now heads to the full Senate.

Meanwhile, the House voted 85-7 in favor of House Bill 606, which would bar any organization that performs abortions from receiving state funds, unless the entity only occasionally performs them in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. That bill now advances to the Senate.

State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, a West Monroe Republican who heads the House Health and Welfare Committee and authored both of Wednesday’s anti-abortion bills, said both help defend the state’s position as having some of the strictest regulations on abortion in the country.

“We’ve been the top pro-life state many times,” he said.

Louisiana already prohibits state funding from going toward abortion procedures. But HB606 would end funding for other health services, including birth control, regular wellness checkups and cancer screenings if the health organization also provides abortions in Louisiana.

While not specifically aimed at Planned Parenthood, the measure could be used to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider, if its clinic under construction in New Orleans performs abortions. Currently, Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer abortions in Louisiana. The state has two abortion clinics operated by other entities — one in Shreveport and one in New Orleans.

“This would not allow any funding unless they stop doing abortions,” Hoffmann said. “We just don’t want them to be doing abortions.”

Some House members said they were concerned that cutting funding for women’s health services could limit access.

“If that company is providing that service, I believe this stops the access to health care,” said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge. “We cannot set the precedent of stopping access to health care for other reasons.”

The nearly two-hour hearing on the abortion waiting period bill also drew impassioned testimony from opponents and supporters.

Under current state law, women must wait 24 hours before an abortion. Tripling the waiting period to 72 hours, as HB386 aims, would put Louisiana with Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah as having the longest mandatory delays for the period between when a woman first consults with a doctor and when the abortion is performed.

Hoffmann said the longer wait time would “empower women with more time.”

“It’s also about the life of the unborn child here,” Hoffmann said.

Several abortion-rights advocates argued that the measure would create an unnecessary burden — particularly for poor women.

“Laws restricting access to comprehensive health care, including abortion, harm all people,” said Amy Irvin, of the New Orleans Abortion Fund.

She said the bill was “condescending.”

“We trust (women) to know the best option for their future and their family’s well-being,” she said. “Placing additional barriers on health care is unnecessary and cruel.”

Angela Adkins, of the National Organization for Women based in Louisiana, wept as she read a list of names of women who she said died from attempts at self-abortion procedures or botched illegal abortions.

“During times when abortion was illegal, it was also unsafe,” she said. “Where abortions are legal, deaths drop.”

Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat who was one of the most outspoken in favor of the bill as it was heard in committee, argued that abortion would still be legal in Louisiana.

“This is a very important decision,” she said. “I think, because of the magnitude of it, individuals should have the maximum time to think about it.”

“I believe when you have more time, time will always help you think through things,” she added.

Sancha N. Smith, of the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America, said she had an abortion at 16 and wishes she had more time to think about it.

“Had I been given enough time, I may have reached out to a family member or shared my heart with someone,” she said. “Someone could have come along and helped me make a better decision.”

Originally, the bill would not apply to women who live 150 miles from the nearest clinic, but the Senate panel amended the legislation to make it apply to all women.

Hoffmann said he was fine with the change and that the provision had been added only to satisfy concerns about establishing undue burdens on women in rural parts of the state and the potential threat of litigation.

“It was done for the purpose of trying to make it practical for people in that situation,” he said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.

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