Abortion again will be discussed by the Louisiana Legislature when lawmakers debate whether life — and its legal protections — begins at conception.
Among the bills to be considered when the Legislature begins its annual session next week is a proposal to amend the state constitution to say: “every unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and is therefore a legal person for purposes of the unborn child’s right to life, and is entitled to the right to life from the moment of conception.” Before the provision can become law, two-thirds of the Legislation and a majority of the state’s voters would have to approve.
Similar so-called “personhood” propositions were defeated by Legislatures — and at ballot boxes — around the country, including conservative Mississippi and more moderate Colorado.
In almost every recent annual session, the Louisiana legislature has passed laws on a wide array of measures aimed at restricting the legal pregnancy-ending procedure, thereby making this state widely considered to be the nation’s most “pro life.”
State Sen. Elbert Guillory, who is leading the Louisiana push, said the state needs to “enshrine in our Constitution that Louisiana is a pro-life state.”
The proposition does not challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. “If tomorrow Roe v. Wade is overturned, in Louisiana, we would automatically advance to the point where an unborn child is a human being entitled to life at the point of conception,” said Guillory, an Opelousas Republican who has announced he’ll run for lieutenant governor this fall.
The proposed constitutional provision, Senate Bill 80, is narrowly tailored to address the right to life of the unborn. But those opposing propositions similar to Louisiana’s say there are a host of unintended consequences because the unborn child becomes a “legal person.”
Among the consequences cited: criminalizing birth control; eliminating abortion exceptions for rape and life of the mother; scrapping the death penalty; allowing a fetus to be counted as a dependent for tax purposes and welfare benefits; and potentially lowering the legal age at which a young person can drive, smoke and drink by nine months.
Guillory said he has his lawyers trying to sort through those issues to assess any constitutional impact on state laws. (The Louisiana Constitution trumps state statutes.)
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates oppose “personhood” initiatives pushed by Personhood USA and other anti-abortion groups.
“It’s government intrusion and it simply goes too far,” said Rochelle Tafolla, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. “This essentially inserts government into private lives.”
Among problems the Planned Parenthood cites is the threat to women’s lives by preventing life-saving treatment for pregnant women with conditions, such as cancer.
“We will work to eduction people in Louisiana how out of step this kind of initiative is,” said Tafolla. She said that’s why such efforts have failed in other states where they have been tried.
Guillory said the death penalty issue needs more review. He said it is not his intention to ban the death penalty in Louisiana, just to the preserve the right to life of the unborn. “Although that person has a right to life; by their bad behavior they give it up,” said Guillory.
Guillory said he would have no problem with parents being able to take a state income tax deduction or draw welfare benefits for a child who has not yet been born.
Legislators have introduced personhood legislation in Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington but none have passed.
Mississippi and Colorado voters have rejected initiatives. In 2011, Mississippi voters rejected an initiative with nearly 58 percent against the measure. In 2014, North Dakota voters rejected the idea when 64 percent opposed.
So far, in 2015, “personhood” legislation has died in Mississippi and Iowa. But efforts continue.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.