'Last chance': Louisiana Senate plans one more push to help fill budget gap _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, top, chats with Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, bottom, on the Senate floor during during the second special legislative session Tuesday.

Louisiana is on the path to adopting one of the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion laws, as a proposed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy continues to advance through the Legislature.

The House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday narrowly approved Senate Bill 181, which would ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bill advanced on a 9-8 vote with committee Chair Sherman Mack, R-Albany, casting the tie-breaking vote in favor.

The bill, which would only go into effect if a court upholds Mississippi's similar 15-week ban, now heads to the full House for consideration.

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Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, said that his goal is to outlaw abortion in Louisiana entirely.

"I believe the reality is an unborn baby is not just another part of the anatomy. It's actually human life," he said.

Several abortion rights proponents and doctors testified against the bill, which one deemed "especially cruel and dangerous."

"You will not stop abortion," said Angela Adkins of Louisiana NOW. "Abortions have been around forever since women first started conceiving."

Louisiana's proposal would technically be stricter than Mississippi's ban that is being challenged in court, as it provides for criminal charges and is 15 weeks from conception.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who campaigned on his position against abortion rights, has said he would need to see specific legislation before committing, but he has no opposition to the concept of barring abortions after the 15-week period.

"I would be inclined to sign it if it hits my desk, but I have not yet had any conversations about that particular bill," Edwards said during the March episode of his monthly call-in radio show.

Some groups that are normally outspoken supporters of efforts to further restrict abortion in Louisiana had raised concerns about the bill unintentionally rolling back restrictions in place but it has since been amended to address those issues. The Louisiana Right to Life and the Louisiana Family Forum now both support the measure.

Louisiana, which tends to be among states with the tightest restrictions on abortion access, currently prohibits abortion after 20 weeks. Additionally, a 2006 state law also says any U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively overturning the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade case that established a right to terminate pregnancies until viability and giving states an option to ban would have the effect of prohibiting abortion at all levels in Louisiana. 

The effort to mimic Mississippi's 15-week ban here comes as Iowa lawmakers moved to adopt an even more restrictive ban.

The Associated Press reported that Republican legislators sent Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds a bill early Wednesday that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks.

Like Mississippi's 15-week ban, which is on hold pending a legal challenge, Iowa's measure is expected to draw a court battle if Reynolds, a Republican, signs it into law as expected.

Louisiana's 15-week push is seen as even more restrictive than Mississippi's because, under Milkovich's bill, anyone who performs an abortion after the 15-week period could face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Milkovich, who has ushered the bill through the Senate and presented it to the House committee Wednesday, said he doesn't know how many abortions are performed after 15 weeks currently.

Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast estimates that 94 percent of abortions in Louisiana take place before 15 weeks.

Mississippi's ban was challenged in court shortly after it was signed into law in March. An injunction has placed its implementation on hold. SB181 includes language, largely out of legal cost concerns, that makes it only enforceable if Mississippi's law is successfully upheld.

In favor of banning abortion after 15 weeks (9): Reps. Bacala, Dwight, Hazel, Hodges, Howard, Muscarello, Pylant, Stefanski and Mack.

Against SB181 (8): Reps. Bagneris, Carpenter, Duplessis, Gaines, James, Marcelle, Marino and Norton. 

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.