Advocates and opponents of abortion rights held separate rallies Thursday morning in response to abortion-related bills that have passed this session.
Originally scheduled to take place at the same location, Planned Parenthood and the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom rallied in front of the Governor’s Mansion, while the Louisiana Right to Life rallied on the State Capitol steps.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed several anti-abortion bills into law this year, including legislation that will require women to wait 72 hours from a first physician consultation before they can have an abortion, beginning Aug. 1.
Tripling the state’s current 24-hour waiting period will put Louisiana with Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah as having the nation’s longest mandatory waiting times.
On Thursday, just hours after the dueling rallies, Edwards signed a bill that would bar the state from providing Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood in Louisiana if the nonprofit begins performing abortions in its new New Orleans clinic.
Other bills that have passed this session and been embraced by Edwards raise the requirements for physicians who can perform abortions, outlaw the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and, in response to controversial videos that went viral last year, prohibit the harvest or sale of aborted fetus organs and tissue.
“I just believe the legislation has totally ignored and disrespected women,” said Maria Wickstrom, a New Orleans resident who was one of about two dozen pro-abortion rights supporters who gathered in front of the Governor’s Mansion. “It really concerns me.”
Down the street on the Capitol steps, about a dozen opponents of abortion rights held their own rally, waving banners that thanked the governor for signing anti-abortion legislation.
“We have been prayerful and thoughtful,” said Sancha Smith, of Baton Rouge. “I’m very grateful for Gov. Edwards’ action.”
Edwards, a Democrat who was elected last fall, made his anti-abortion position known on the campaign trail and in ads.
“I think he’s moving in the right direction in some respects,” Wickstrom said, applauding the governor’s effort to expand Medicaid. “It’s up to us to make our voices heard.”
Over the course of the legislative session, lawmakers have expressed their desire to make Louisiana the “most pro-life state” in the country.
In the Senate, as protestors rallied outside Thursday, legislators debated a bill that would make it illegal to abort a fetus based on genetic abnormalities.
“This Legislature has taken one of the strongest stands on behalf of the unborn in the country,” said Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport. “There is one area where we are at the top and that’s protecting babies.”
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said she knows she’s in the minority in being pro-abortion rights and sometimes doesn’t even bother to speak out against anti-abortion bills.
“The majority of this body and the House disagree with me,” she said. “But there is a right of every woman in this country to do what they will with their bodies.”