Abortion and the new South

If Gov. John Bel Edwards, as expected, signs the 'fetal heartbeat' bill that's moved through the state legislature, it would restrict abortions in Louisiana to about the sixth week of pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant.

Much has been written about the effect this would have on Louisiana's women, but The New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante took a different tack, examining what it would mean for millennials moving here from Brooklyn.

Meet Bellafante's cousin "Tess," who moved here two years ago after working as "head of research and development for Christina Tosi and her baking empire, Milk Bar, the great 21st-century dessert disrupter." 

"This young woman was a citizen of the New South now," Bellafante writes. "Her business, Tess Kitchen, was thriving. Her New Orleans apartment, at $1,900 a month, had three bathrooms."

But the multiplicity of toilet space in our charming faubourgs, it seems, comes with a drawback, and that's legislation like the 'fetal heartbeat' bill.

"The news was an awakening," Bellafante says.

It was?

Tess willingly gave up a life as a up-and-coming dessert disrupter to move to a state whose Democratic governor was openly and unapologetically anti-abortion, the state legislature also was filled with anti-abortion Democrats and the 'fetal heartbeat' bill was championed by a Democrat.

She chose a state that's near or at the bottom in nearly all women's healthcare outcomes, a state that amended its constitution to specifically prohibit same-sex marriage, a state that still doesn't have a minimum-wage law and prohibits its cities from establishing their own.

None of this is a secret. But it seems to have come as a shock to Tess and Bellafante.

"Under the current conditions," Bellafante writes, "I wondered if women like Tess and her friends, many of whom moved from New York or Los Angeles, would have chosen to relocate to the Deep South. I asked some of them, and they told me that they were not sure."

Fair enough. But I'd feel better about this essay if Bellafante mentioned once, just once, the conditions under which Louisiana women live — not just the "disrupter" transplants, but those whose families have been here for generations, those who may not have the option to pack up and leave and those who don't want to. 

I'm not sure they're on Tess' radar, or Bellafante's.

"In the last 15 years or so, I have made no fewer than 50 trips to Birmingham, Ala., where my husband’s family lives," Bellafante writes, "each time marveling at how much more exquisitely it meets a particular set of consumerist and architectural fantasies — the book shops, the midcentury modern furniture stores, the retooled industrial spaces, the gyms that are indistinguishable from the ones in TriBeCa, the soaring leaded windows, the restaurants now nationally known and the new ones always coming up."

And that's the crux of it: the "New South" (or "new New Orleans") as a consumerist fantasy, where one can live cheaply without sacrificing swell restaurants or beautiful architecture or "gyms that are indistinguishable from the ones in TriBeCa."

But that's not the way most of us live outside a very small pocket of New Orleans.

"Living in a very liberal city in a very conservative state is a trick mirror," Bellafante writes. 'You really forget that you are in the Deep South here,’’ [Tess] said.'"

If so, it's a willful forgetting — or a willful refusal to look at the reality of others less fortunate.

When the 'fetal heartbeat' bill becomes law, it won't affect women like Tess in the least; they'll be on the first JetBlue back to New York should they choose an abortion.

For most of the rest of the women in Louisiana, who were here long before Bywater became Williamsburg South and will be here when the Tesses of this world move on to Pittsburgh or Lafayette, it's a different story.

Follow Kevin Allman on Twitter: @kevinallman