Women's groups call on Edwards to veto 15-week abortion ban_lowres

The Louisiana State Capitol.

At a press conference at the Louisiana State Capitol Building May 18, representatives from several Louisiana women's advocacy groups called on Gov. John Bel Edwards to veto a controversial ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and blasted legislators for their failure to pass woman-friendly policies this session.

The conference, which was streamed on Facebook Live, was a last push by advocates to try and stop Senate Bill 181 (the 15-week ban) from becoming one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws and triggering a near-certain legal battle over its constitutionality.

""Make no mistake — a 15-week abortion ban is an unconstitutional law and our legislators were told that repeatedly," Ellie Schilling, an attorney who works on reproductive rights issues and Lift Louisiana board president, said. "[This law] will do nothing but waste taxpayer money on costly litigation."

[jump] Advocates consistently have argued that even legal roadblocks don't mitigate the dangers such laws present for women. At today's conference, Schilling described the ban's apparent lack of exceptions in case of rape, incest or severe fetal abnormalities, and others pointed to the difficulty many women have raising money to get an abortion in time to abide by Louisiana's existing 20-week ban, as well as the lack of state-mandated comprehensive sex ed that means many young women may not understand contraception or recognize the early signs of pregnancy.

Maria Wickstrom, chairwoman of the board of New Orleans Abortion Fund, described her experience getting an abortion in college and the several weeks it took to come to terms with the fact that she was pregnant and raise money for the procedure.

"If I were that 19-year-old today, after the governor signs [SB 181] I would be faced with an untenable situation, a desperate situation," she said, adding "[this bill] is anti-life, because it threatens a living, breathing person's self-determination."

SB 181 is designed not to go into effect unless federal courts uphold a similar ban in Mississippi. Edwards has not yet indicated whether or not he plans to sign the ban, but he is known to oppose abortion and The Advocate reported he said he leaned toward signing it on his monthly radio show in March.

Speakers at the news conference also castigated legislators for the sidelining of several bills this session dealing with pay equity in Louisiana, which has one of the nation's largest pay gaps between men and women. Bills regarding stronger equal pay protections, opposing wage secrecy (which improves pay equity by protecting employees who compare salaries) and the minimum wage (which affects a disproportionate share of women workers in Louisiana) all went down in various parts of the legislature.

"[The wage gap] is real, it is persistent, and it is causing economic hardship for women and their families," state president of American Association of University Women Vivian Guillory said. She said 90 percent of Louisianans support equal pay and that stronger laws could cut women's poverty rate in half. "Why can't we pass these bills?"

Angela Adkins, legislative director of Louisiana's National Organization for Women chapter and operations director at two abortion clinics, drew a line between equal pay protections and a woman's decision to become a parent or enlarge her family.

"In a state that will not pass equal pay for women, in a state that will not pass minimum wage for women, you are leaving them no option but to abort their pregnancies," she said.

Speakers also mentioned a number of other bills that, if signed, put pressure on abortion access, including a bill designed to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds if it pursues its current application to become an abortion provider and another bill that strengthens record-keeping restrictions on abortion clinics, at risk of losing their licenses.

Today's news conference followed a lobby day earlier this spring, at which representatives from many of these same groups met with legislators to express their support or opposition for many bills — feedback those representatives did not seem to heed.

Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast's vice president of strategic partnerships, said she has little patience left for lawmakers.

"Today we say: Enough. We demand that politicians stop wasting the precious time they have at the Capitol and start fighting for women and families. The state is on the brink of a fiscal crisis, and [women] are literally fighting for our lives," she said.