abortion0019.050819 bf.jpg

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, center, answers questions during hearings in the Senate Judiciary A Committee on HB425 which would allow a vote on a Constitutional Amendment that stipulates that no provision of the constitution protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion Tuesday May 7, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. Jackson is flanked by Dorinda Bordlee, with the Bioethics Defense Fund, left, and Benjamin Clapper, executive director Louisiana Right to Life, right. The red paperwork stacked up are 8,665 petitions from Louisiana citizens that are in favor of HB425.

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a bid to let the public vote on whether to change the state’s constitution to make clear Louisiana does not provide a right to abortion or require funding for it.

House Bill 425 would ask the state's voters to approve a ban on abortion as an expression of opposition to the pregnancy ending procedure that could prove helpful should the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, be overturned as many expect will happen in the near future. 

If the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision is overturned, the decision whether or not to allow abortions reverts back to the states. Louisiana has a 10-year-old law on the books that says if given the choice by federal authorities, all abortion would be illegal in this state.

But in some states, most recently in Kansas, courts have ruled abortions legal because the procedure was not expressly forbidden. State Rep. Katrina Jackson, the Monroe Democrat who carried the bill, has argued that a statewide vote condemning the practice would put the ban in the state Constitution and trump any strategy to legalize abortion on the state level. 

The Senate voted 31-4 to pass the measure, sending it back to the House for concurrence on minor changes made to the bill. The measure was supported by anti-abortion groups like the Louisiana Right to Life.

If the House approves of the changes, as expected, the constitutional amendment would go before voters in October during the gubernatorial primary election.

Louisiana pushing anti-abortion agenda 'just as strongly' as other states with these proposed laws

State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who brought the bill in the Senate for Jackson, said it was an opportunity for the state of Louisiana to make clear it doesn’t support abortion.

The bill is one of a handful being pushed through the Legislature this year that would curtail abortion rights. Louisiana is part of a wave of states across the South and Midwest racing to enact some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, which opposed the measure, said constitutions are meant to protect rights, not deny them. She said the amendment “will directly hurt some of our most vulnerable citizens: poor women.”

“This shameful proposal doesn’t even make exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest,” she said in a statement. “Rest assured, we will fight for women’s rights all the way to the ballot box and stand up to those who want to make women second-class citizens.”

The Legislature also appear poised to pass the "fetal heartbeat" bill that would ban abortions after about six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. But that measure would not go into effect unless a similar Mississippi law is upheld by the courts, and abortions will likely remain available in Louisiana barring a move from the nation’s high court. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he is inclined to sign the measure. 

The statewide vote legislation, like the bill to ban abortions after about six weeks, would not immediately have any effect on women’s access to abortion in the state.

A 2016 poll from the LSU Public Policy Research lab found Louisiana residents are generally more opposed to abortion than Americans as a whole. About 55% in Louisiana think abortions should be illegal in most or all cases, the poll showed, while 40% think it should be legal in all or most cases — nearly a mirror opposite of what national surveys show. While more than 80% support some restrictions on access to abortions, only a quarter think it should be illegal in all cases, the poll found.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.