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After hours of personal stories and debate, the Louisiana House passed its own so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill today 79-23 that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, around six weeks.

The bill, authored by State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, would require doctors to perform an ultrasound prior to an abortion to determine if a fetal heartbeart was present. They would then have to keep a copy of that ultrasound in a patient’s medical records.

State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said she was honored to bring the bill forward on behalf of Milkovich but that it was a “very solemn responsibility.

"In Louisiana, we have a culture of love of life, love of family and love of God,” Hodges said. “The heartbeat is the biggest indication of life there is.”

Hodges shared a personal story with members about her son and his pregnant wife being told the child would have a brain They chose not to have an abortion and the child was born healthy, she said. Her family history was similar to that of Gov. John Bel Edwards and his wife Donna, who chose not to have an abortion when their daughter was diagnosed in vitro with spina bifida.

“One thing was very consistent in both of those stories is that they had a conversation as a family — they made a choice,” said State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who opposed the bill. 

The ban — which passed the Senate 31-5 earlier this month — would outlaw abortion before many women know they are pregnant. At six weeks pregnant, a woman has missed her period for two weeks, and factors unrelated to pregnancy, such as diet and stress, can cause late periods.

However, the ban is contingent on ongoing battles over Mississippi’s “heartbeat bill,” which was signed into law in March. Last week, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves temporarily blocked the law, which was set to go into effect July 1.

Reeves, who blocked Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban saying it was before the viability of a fetus, has indicated he’ll do the same with the heartbeat ban.

“Here we go again,” he wrote in his ruling putting the Mississippi law on hold. “Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability.”

Both Louisiana and Mississippi have spent an estimated total of more than a million dollars each defending abortion restrictions in court. That number is on track to keep growing.

The only exceptions to the ban would be if the physician determines the abortion in necessary to prevent the death or “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the pregnant woman — or for “medically futile” pregnancies in which the fetus would be unable to live after birth.

James and State Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, proposed an amendment that would have carved out exceptions to the ban if the pregnant woman says the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. The amendment failed by a vote of 35-67.

Another failed amendment by State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, would have given victims of rape and incest 10 weeks to decide to have an abortion.

Stokes, who regularly votes for abortion restrictions, said she was nervous to bring up the amendment forward, citing a good relationship with many of the bill’s proponents as well as the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life.

“I don’t feel equipped to make every victim’s decision,” she said. “I can’t know everybody’s situation and their pain. I can’t know it.”

Hodges repeatedly stated the bill would outlaw abortions after 10-12 weeks, referring to a handout she passed out on the floor that she said came from the Louisiana Department of Health. However, previous expert testimony and reports have said it would ban them after six weeks. Stokes brought this up on the floor as a reason she was proposing her amendment.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, also proposed an amendment that would have required public schools to teach “age appropriate” sexual education. Smith has proposed similar sexual education bills for years. The bill was pulled because it was deemed not germane, or relevant to abortion.

Physicians found violating the proposed law would be fined up to $1,000 per incident, imprisoned for up to two years or both. The violation could also be grounds for suspending or revoking a medical license.

The bill will head to the desk of Edwards, a Democrat with a consistent anti-abortion voting record, who has said he'll sign it into law.

"I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me – and I respect their opinions," Edwards said in a statement. "As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone."

The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a statement saying the organization was committed to fighting the bill from going into effect.

“Senate Bill 184 is a plainly unconstitutional reminder of just how far Louisiana politicians are willing to go to interfere in these deeply personal medical decisions and force women to continue pregnancies against their will," said Alanah Odoms Hebert, the chapter's executive director. "We’re committed to making sure this brazen attack on the constitutional right to abortion access never takes effect.”

Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio have already passed similar bans, and several other state legislatures are considering following suit.

The House rejected Senate amendments on two abortion-related bills, sending them to a conference committee to work out their final language. One was a bill by State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, that would let voters decide if they want to add language to the state constitution saying it does not protect the right to abortion or the funding of abortion.

Jackson said the bill would go to a conference committee for “a technical change.”

That bill would put the following measure on the Oct. 12 ballot: “Do you support an amendment declaring that, to protect human life, a right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution?”

The state currently has a 2006 trigger law that would ban all abortions if Roe v. Wade were appealed but the constitutional amendment, by its nature, would be harder to overturn than the trigger law.

The other bill headed to a conference committee was a bill by State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, that would change the legal definition of abortion to include medication abortions — abortions administered in the form of a pill in the early weeks of pregnancy.

The bill would require only physicians at the state’s three remaining to be able to give patients the pill, rather than any of the state’s licensed OB-GYNs.

Follow Kaylee Poche on Twitter: @kaylee_poche