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State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, testifies Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in support of his bill to ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks. Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary C Committee amended the bill to go into effect only if a similar measure in Mississippi passes legal challenges before advancing it to the full Senate.

A state Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, a measure that would represent one of the country's most restrictive abortion laws if a similar law passes a legal challenge. 

The proposal, which will be debated by the full Senate next, is part of a trend among one of the country's most anti-abortion Legislatures, though similar efforts have been successfully challenged in the courts.

The bill, brought by state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, would only go into effect if a similar measure in Mississippi is upheld by the courts, something critics say is unlikely. The Senate Judiciary C Committee amended Milkovich's bill to make it go into effect only if the Mississippi law passes legal challenges, an effort to avoid entering into prolonged and costly litigation.

The panel advanced the bill after adding – and then stripping – an amendment that would have protected abortion rights for victims of rape and incest. Lawmakers reversed course on that amendment after the Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, spoke out against it. 

"We feel this is an important statement to Louisiana's devotion to the unborn," Milkovich said of his bill. 

While he said he understands the litigation could be costly, Milkovich opposed the amendment that linked his bill with the success of Mississippi's law in the courts, though the committee passed the change regardless. 

Louisiana's Solicitor General Liz Murrill, who handles appeals and cases before the Supreme Court for Attorney General Jeff Landry, said the trigger amendment is "probably the best way to handle this bill." 

Milkovich brought with him several anti-abortion activists, including one, Jennifer McCoy, who was reportedly convicted of setting fire to abortion clinics in the 1990s. He also likened abortion to "slavery," and argued against an exclusion for victims of rape and incest because he said it would be "killing the baby." 

Ellie Schilling, a lawyer who represents reproductive health care providers and who testified against the bill, said it's "concerning" that Milkovich brought McCoy to testify. 

Schilling also argued stripping the exclusion for victims of rape and incest was "dehumanizing" to victims and said many medical providers oppose the law. 

Mississippi recently signed into law a similar ban on abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually about six weeks into pregnancy. Critics call the measures cruel and unconstitutional, and say six weeks is before many women know they're pregnant. 

A similar ban was also passed in Kentucky, a move that forced the state's only abortion clinic to cancel appointments before lawyers temporarily blocked the law. The Mississippi ban is currently making its way through the courts, and a similar law in Iowa was struck down by a state court. 

“There is no doubt this bill is unconstitutional," Schilling said. "No court has ever upheld a pre-viability ban." 

Louisiana lawmakers last year passed a similar law that banned abortions after 15 weeks, but only if a similar Mississippi law was upheld by the courts. A federal judge blocked Mississippi's law in November, but the state has appealed. 


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.