BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers took another step Tuesday in efforts to chip away at abortion rights, nearing final passage of a bill that would ask voters to rewrite the state constitution to ensure it offers no protections for the procedure.
The constitutional change, which has been enacted in some other conservative states, is one of several anti-abortion measures proposed in Louisiana’s legislative session, including a bill nearing final passage that could ban the procedure as early as six weeks of pregnancy.
The Senate voted 31-4 Tuesday for the proposal by Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson, of Monroe, asking voters to add language into the state constitution declaring that it doesn’t protect abortion rights. The House already has approved it, but must take another vote to send it to the fall ballot.
The legislation, backed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the majority-GOP Legislature, would come into play if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Abortion foes want to ensure that if states can determine the legality of the procedure, a federal court couldn’t cite the Louisiana constitution as conferring rights that keep lawmakers from limitations or an outright ban. Legislators years ago passed a law prohibiting abortion in Louisiana if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
At a rally before Tuesday’s vote, Jackson bristled at suggestions from abortion rights advocates that female lawmakers weren’t protecting women in the state by supporting anti-abortion legislation.
“I’m here to say that I’m pro-woman, I’m pro-life because abortions hurt more women than anything else,” Jackson said, surrounded by a half-dozen female lawmakers.
Abortion rights supporters object to the constitutional amendment. They say it would lay the groundwork for outlawing abortions entirely in Louisiana, which only has three abortion clinics and many laws restricting the procedure.
“Just because you think a woman should choose doesn’t mean you don’t cherish life. Just because you don’t think the Legislature should tell a woman what to do with her body doesn’t mean you don’t cherish life,” said Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat.
Jackson’s bill is one of several anti-abortion measures proposed this session in Louisiana, including legislation nearing final passage that could ban the procedure when a fetal heartbeat is detected. While supporters of Jackson’s legislation held a support rally, a dozen protesters stood on the other side of the state Capitol, shouting at intervals: “My body! My choice!”
Lawmakers in conservative states around the nation are striking at Roe V. Wade, pushing new abortion restrictions, hopeful a case will make its way to the high court and could be successful with two new conservative justices appointed by President Donald Trump.
Alabama passed a law banning nearly all abortions while governors in Georgia, Mississippi , Kentucky and Ohio have also signed bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. None of the laws have yet taken effect. All are expected to be blocked while challenges work their way through courts.
The new language in Louisiana’s constitution would read: “To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The constitutional change requires support from a majority of voters in the Oct. 12 election for adoption.
Efforts to delay the vote until the 2020 presidential ballot failed.
“I can’t think of anything more important than this constitutional amendment,” said Sen. Mike Walsworth, a West Monroe Republican.
Before it reaches the ballot, the measure must return to the House for lawmakers to consider a Senate change that added language declaring lawmakers reserve the right to regulate and pass laws about abortion. Senators included the language to ensure they can enact exceptions to abortion limits to protect the life of a pregnant woman or for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Five states have adopted similar constitutional language, including Alabama and Arkansas, according to anti-abortion organization Louisiana Right to Life, which calls Jackson’s proposal the “Love Life Constitutional Amendment.”
Opponents vowed to try to defeat the amendment with voters.
“Constitutions are meant to protect rights, not deny them,” Michelle Erenberg, executive director of women’s rights organization Lift Louisiana, said in a statement that pledged to “fight for women’s rights all the way to the ballot box.”
House Bill 425: www.legis.la.gov