The Louisiana Senate passed a bill 31-4 today that would let residents vote on adding language to the state constitution explicitly stating it does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion — advancing yet another abortion restriction.
After House concurrence, the bill will put the amendment on the ballot Oct. 12, coinciding with the governor’s election.
That ballot measure would read as follows: “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?”
State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who presented the bill on behalf of State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said it was “the simplest of bills.”
“It wouldn’t be the judges in D.C.,” she said. “It would be the people of the state of Louisiana determining what they thought about life.”
Both Mizell and Jackson attended a press conference at the Capitol earlier Tuesday to voice their support of the bill and voice their anti-abortion rights position. Some abortion rights activists protested the event, according to a News Star report.
The New Orleans Abortion Fund, Women With a Vision and the New Orleans Peoples’ Assembly are organizing the protest.
More than 60 representatives have added their names to the bill in support.
Louisiana already has a 2006 “trigger law” in place that would make abortion illegal in almost all cases if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The constitutional amendment, however, would be harder to overturn than the trigger law.
“The amendment is kind of a confusing measure,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney who has represented many of the state’s reproductive health centers. “Constitutional amendments generally give rights to the people. They're not drafted to take them away.”
The amendment does not include any exceptions for rape, incest or the life or health of the mother, which Schilling said could lead to some uncertainty about its legal implementation.
“It's just very unclear then if that amendment were to ever kick in and have effect, if it would ban abortion in all instances — if that's how our judge would interpret it — or if the legislature could, at a later date, enact exceptions to that general ban,” she said.
Is Louisiana the next Alabama or Missouri when it comes to the right to an abortion?
The Senate also overwhelmingly passed another abortion restriction today 30-4. House Bill 133 by State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would revise the legal definition of abortion to include medication abortions — terminating a pregnancy by taking a pill.
It would require doctors give patients the pill at one of the state’s three remaining abortion clinics. Currently, licensed OB-GYNs can administer the pill.
State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, expressed concern about the bill potentially being interpreted to outlaw the morning after pill, but State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said that the bill only related to a diagnosable pregnancy.
“Anything we do here when we change the law is subject to interpretation,” Morrell said. “As we have seen, legislative intention means little when the politics of the courthouse comes to interpreting the things we do.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that is a hop and a skip from 'The Handmaid’s Tale,'” he said.
The measure now heads to the governor for signature, and he’s expected to sign it. While two of the state's other abortion restrictions have hinged upon pending legal battles over legislation passed in Mississippi, neither of these bills have such provisions — meaning that if the state is sued over these laws, taxpayers will be footing the legal bills for defending them.
According to Schilling, that is a real possibility. “I think that it's likely that there will be legal challenges to some if not all of those bills,” she said.
Though Jackson’s bill to amend the state constitution easily passed through the Senate, women’s rights groups say they plan to keep fighting the measure.
“Constitutions are meant to protect rights, not deny them,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, in a statement. “But that’s exactly what the state Senate did today when it passed an amendment that will directly hurt some of our most vulnerable citizens: poor women.
“Rest assured, we will fight for women’s rights all the way to the ballot box and stand up to those who want to make women second-class citizens,” she added.
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