Women in Louisiana will have to wait at least three days before they can obtain an abortion, under legislation that is nearing final passage at the State Capitol.
The longer waiting period — triple the 24-hour delay required under state law — has already won overwhelming support in both the Senate and House.
After a final technical change is made, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is expected to sign House Bill 386 into law, making Louisiana one of six states that require women wait at least 72 hours from first consulting with a doctor before an abortion can be performed.
Anti-abortion advocates have hailed the measure as an effort to give women more time to decide whether or not to abort, while opponents have argued that it restricts abortion rights and will create an unnecessary burden — particularly for poor women.
During committee testimony over the past several weeks, women in support of the bill spoke of past abortions and how they wished they had been required to think about the decision more.
Women on the other side — abortion-rights advocates and women offering personal testimony about their abortions — said the bill was “condescending” and created hurdles for women who had already made up their minds but have work or family commitments that may be disrupted by the three-day delay.
There was no discussion before the Senate’s 34-4 vote on the bill Tuesday. It has to head back to the House to correct minor typographical errors in earlier drafts, but the content both chambers approved is the same, signaling its likely imminent passage.
House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Frank Hoffmann, a Republican from West Monroe who sponsored the 72-hour waiting period and several other anti-abortion measures this session, said Tuesday that he is proud of the Legislature for agreeing to “another good pro-life bill.”
“It gives women more time to make this tremendously important decision,” he said. “It just gives them that additional two days.”
Like many other recent efforts to restrict abortion in recent years, the increased waiting time has won broad bipartisan support among Louisiana lawmakers.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked a 2014 Louisiana law that sought to require abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. That law was expected to force all but one of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down.
Two clinics — one in Shreveport and one in New Orleans — continue to perform abortions in Louisiana.
Other anti-abortion measures under consideration at the Legislature seek to eliminate all state funding for any group that performs abortions, even for unrelated services; require that abortions only be provided under the direct supervision of doctors who have specific board certifications; and outlaw a common second-trimester abortion procedure.
In promoting the 72-hour bill, Hoffmann has repeatedly stressed how it will help posture Louisiana as a state with some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on abortion.
Tripling the waiting period will put the state with Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah as having the nation’s longest mandatory waiting times. The longer wait time in Louisiana won’t apply to women who live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic, but they would still be required to wait 24 hours.
Opponents have repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of mandatory waiting periods. A recent University of California, San Francisco study on the impact of Utah’s law found that the longer waiting period had little impact on the decision to obtain an abortion, and most women followed through with their initial plans.
In a statement, the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, an umbrella group that represents several abortion-rights supporters, called the effort to expand the waiting period here “part of an ongoing effort to restrict abortion services.” The group pointed to another bill making its way through the Capitol that would ban surgical abortions that are often performed after 13 weeks of pregnancy. That bill, House Bill 1081, recently won overwhelming support in the House and is awaiting action in a Senate committee.
“When considered together, it is difficult to deny that lawmakers are strategically working to ensure that women in Louisiana will have no access to their constitutional right to have an abortion,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, which is part of the Coalition for Reproductive Freedom.