For years, abortion rights have been under attack in state legislatures. With President Donald Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh — who actively worked to deny a 17-year-old immigrant's request for an abortion and sided with bosses who want to deny employees no-cost birth control based on employers' religious views — the existence of legal abortion and equal access to health care is now threatened nationally.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, it will be up to states to regulate abortion. Louisiana is one of four states with a "trigger law," which is a state law banning abortion that would instantly take effect if Roe is overturned. Louisiana's law criminalizes abortion and punishes anyone who performs or aides in abortion with up to 10 years in prison.
Louisiana Democrats, including former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, authored and signed the trigger law more than 10 years ago, but the chipping away of abortion access has been relentless under Republicans and Democrats alike. Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill banning abortion after 15-weeks — one of the most restrictive in the nation — just this year.
The burden created by these restrictions falls most heavily on low-income women and women of color who lack the support and resources to obtain abortion care. A recent study found that women who were denied an abortion were nearly four times to fall below the poverty line and three times more likely to be unemployed than women who were able to access wanted abortion services. When lawmakers take away abortion rights, women bear the consequences.
In a world without Roe, Democratic lawmakers who support abortion rights become even more critical. For decades, a majority of voters have supported access to abortion. That support remains steadfast in response to increasingly aggressive attacks from the Trump administration and anti-abortion lawmakers of both parties. Recent primary elections of pro-abortion rights candidates in Nebraska, Georgia, Kentucky, and Iowa demonstrate that vocal support for abortion rights is not only uncontroversial but, in fact, expected, particularly among Democratic voters.
Louisiana Democrats, including Edwards, foolishly think conceding on abortion rights will help them politically, but they’re increasingly out of step with women of this state who are voicing their opposition to extreme anti-choice legislation. The increased number of pro-abortion rights women lawmakers emerging in this and other conservative states are further evidence that the public expects representatives to clearly uphold women’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.
There was not a more disappointing moment during the 2018 legislative session than when at a luncheon hosted by the Louisiana Federation of Democratic Women, Governor John Bel Edwards looked me in the eye and told me he would sign the 15-week abortion ban. His actions betrayed his constituents and his own party platform, which articulates a strong commitment to abortion.
As the nation prepares for a new Supreme Court justice who may support overturning Roe v. Wade and open the floodgates for even more laws that shame, pressure and punish women for their reproductive decisions, it’s time that Louisiana lawmakers start putting women’s lives ahead of politics as usual.
New Orleans Abortion Fund