Louisiana House passes Heartbeat Bill

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/AP) – With a vote of 79 yeas, 23 nays, Louisiana’s House of Representatives gave final passage Wednesday afternoon to Senate Bill 184, making abortions illegal in if a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

The strict new abortion ban would prohibit the procedure before some women even know they are pregnant, joining a half-dozen conservative states with similar measures.

House approval was the final step before the bill goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. The Deep South’s only Democratic governor, Edwards supports the ban and intends to sign it into law despite opposition from national party leaders who say such laws are attacks on women.

Lawmakers in conservative states across the nation are striking at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally. Abortion opponents are pushing new restrictions on the procedure in hopes that a case will make its way to the high court and two new conservative justices appointed by President Donald Trump could help overturn Roe.

Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted similar so-called heartbeat bills, while Missouri lawmakers approved an eight-week ban on abortion. Alabama’s gone even further, outlawing virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. None of the bans has taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.

Louisiana’s prohibition would take hold only if neighboring Mississippi’s law is upheld by a federal appeals court. A federal judge temporarily blocked that Mississippi law Friday.

Abortion rights activists said Louisiana’s bill would effectively eliminate abortion as an option before many women realize they are pregnant, calling the proposal unconstitutional.

As the Associated Press reports, the legislation includes an exception from the abortion ban to prevent the pregnant woman’s death or “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” — or if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile.”

But it does not include an exception for a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.

A doctor who violates the prohibition under the bill could face a prison sentence of up to two years, along with the revocation of their medical license. 

Although similar abortion bans have drawn sharp criticism from Democrats nationwide, Louisiana’s proposal won wide bipartisan support and was sponsored by a Democrat from the northwest corner of the state, Sen. John Milkovich.

Support from Edwards, running for reelection this fall against two Republicans, is expected to help shore up his position with some voters in his conservative home state, even if it puts him at odds with national Democratic Party leaders and donors.

The ban is one of several bills that Louisiana lawmakers are advancing to add new restrictions on abortion, including a proposal steps from passage to ask voters to rewrite the state constitution to ensure it offers no protections for the procedure. Another bill nearing the governor’s desk would limit where medication-induced abortions can be performed to the state’s three licensed abortion clinics.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana issued the following statement regarding the passage of SB 184 in the Louisiana Legislature Wednesday:

This extreme abortion ban is part of a concerted, nationwide effort to criminalize abortion,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “After years of attacks on abortion access, Louisiana politicians have now sunk to a new low with an extreme ban that would outlaw abortion before many women know they are pregnant. Senate Bill 184 is a plainly unconstitutional reminder of just how far Louisiana politicians are willing to go to interfere in these deeply personal medical decisions and force women to continue pregnancies against their will. We’re committed to making sure this brazen attack on the constitutional right to abortion access never takes effect.

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