All eyes were on Louisiana as the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in June on Medical Services vs. Russo, striking down a clearly unconstitutional law passed by the Louisiana Legislature several years ago.
The case in question involved an admitting privileges requirement for abortion health care providers which, had it taken effect, would have left Louisiana with a single clinic, leaving only one doctor to provide needed abortion care for nearly one million of our residents. In a state with high rates of poverty and limited access to health care, the effects would have been devastating for many. Politically motivated, medically unnecessary abortion restrictions are always harmful, and this one would have hurt pregnant people throughout our entire country had it been upheld.
As a lawyer who has represented one of our state’s last three remaining abortion clinics, and now as a state representative elected on a strong pro-choice platform, I join hundreds of local and state officials in working to protect abortion care and reproductive freedom in our communities. All of us — no matter where we live or how much money we have — must be able to make our own decisions about our bodies and families, free from coercion and stigma.
Like all modern abortion restrictions, the law that was challenged had nothing to do with the safety of women, and everything to do with making abortion access inaccessible and burdensome, particularly for poor women and women of color. Since the passage of Roe v. Wade, Louisiana has passed 89 abortion restrictions, more than any other state in the nation. This long, oppressive list includes burdens such as requiring a medically unnecessary ultrasound and forcing a patient to undergo an in-person “counseling” session with patently false and stigmatizing information prior to receiving a medication or surgical abortion. Notably, these barriers are not required for any other medical service.
Louisiana's admitting privileges law, the focus of the June Medical case, was yet another deceptive ploy by politicians whose goal is to politicize health care and eliminate access to abortion care completely. The fact that a nearly identical law out of Texas was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016 makes it clear that their intention was to harm. The court’s commitment to upholding precedent and striking down this bad law is important, but it’s not the end of the story for women in Louisiana or for lawmakers in this country.
Research shows that states with the most abortion restrictions have fewer supportive policies in place for women and families. As elected officials in Louisiana, we should ask ourselves: Have we done everything we can to ensure better maternal and infant health? What are we doing to promote pay equity and paid family leave for working families? Louisiana has no minimum wage requirement; not surprisingly, two-thirds of the people in our state who make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are women. Why aren’t we working toward a living wage instead of creating imaginary problems about abortion care, which is already extremely safe and overly regulated?
Louisiana has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country, and ranks 48th in the health of women and children. Black women in the state are four times more likely to experience pregnancy-related death than White women. For our most marginalized communities who already face inequities in our health care system, these abortion restrictions have a particularly devastating impact.
We cannot keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. As lawmakers, we have a duty to support the people of Louisiana and chart a new course, one where our residents make a living wage; where they have access to health care, including abortion care; where they have paid family and sick leave; and where all Louisiana residents are protected and supported — not actively harmed — by their own state government. The future of our country depends on it.
Mandie Landry is a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, representing District 91 in New Orleans.