A bill that would outlaw abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected by a doctor cleared a Senate committee 5-2 Tuesday after discussion over application and litigation costs.
Senate Bill 184 was authored by John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, who supports banning all abortions and who said it was a “scientific fact” that life begins at conception.
The bill does not specify when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. But ultrasounds generally can detect them around six or seven weeks of pregnancy — in some cases, later than many women discover they’re pregnant.
Most women first find out they’re pregnant between four and six weeks, according to The American Pregnancy Association.
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Several people came to testify in support of Milkovich’s bill, but drawing the most attention was Jennifer McCoy, a woman from Wichita, Kansas, who served two and a half years in prison for conspiracy to commit arson at an abortion clinic.
McCoy has also been linked to Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion extremist who admitted in 2009 to killing Dr. George Tiller of Women's Health Care Services, which services included late-term abortions.
The only exception the bill carves out is abortion in the case of preventing the death of the mother or “risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, offered an amendment — that ultimately failed — that would have carved out exceptions to the ban in cases of rape and incest. Milkovich said he opposed the amendment. but since he didn’t have a vote on the committee, it initially passed without objection.
But later, when Executive Director of Louisiana Right to Life Ben Clapper said he opposed the amendment, Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, called a second vote.
“I had doubts about the amendment, but I kept looking for someone in opposition — other than the author and I knew he would be in opposition. On my own, I can’t tell,” White said.
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The committee then voted 4-2 to strip the amendment.
Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney, said the bill would drastically cut the time a woman has to decide if she wants to have an abortion or carry her pregnancy to term. Schilling argued that this would contradict previous laws the Louisiana Legislature passed, like a bill extending the mandatory wait time for a woman to have an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours.
“By pushing the ban so early in pregnancy you’re going to force people very quickly to make that decision,” she said.
Since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, courts traditionally have ruled that a state cannot ban abortion before viability, which is typically between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. “Heartbeat bills” and bills seeking bans at 15 weeks — like the one Louisiana passed last year — often are struck down in courts.
Several on the committee who were in favor of the bill questioned how it would work logistically and how providers would be held accountable.
“You need to do some work on this bill,” said White to Milkovich.
The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
“If you do not hold that government gets it right every single time, then death should not be on the table,” said state Sen. JP Morrell, a former New Orleans public defender.
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