The Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare passed a bill on Wednesday that would impose many of the same restrictions on abortion providers that have been passed in Texas and that are currently being considered by the Oklahoma legislature.
HB 388 would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they provide abortions. Additionally, it would impose a 24-hour waiting period on surgical abortions and reduce the number of abortions a doctor must perform in a given year to be considered an abortion provider.
Reproductive rights advocates claim that it would force all but one of the state’s five abortion clinics to close. This would leave the state with only one clinic in Shreveport, and increase the barriers to access to abortion services not just in Louisiana but throughout the South.
Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), who worked on drafting the bill with Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund, testified that
HB 388 was designed to protect the lives of women. Jackson also made it known that because the Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is constitutionally protected, lawmakers must find ways to “legislate around that.”
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Witnesses speaking in favor of the bill often invoked the rogue abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell as justification for the regulations. Many claims were made as to the supposed dangers of abortion and the number of complications that result from abortion procedures. Proponents said that these restrictions would make abortion safer, despite overwhelming evidence that abortion is already safe and highly regulated in the United States.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and only 0.05 percent of them result in a major complication that might need hospital care.
Reproductive rights advocates at the hearing told Rewire that once HB 388 opponents began to testify, most of the committee members left the room. Only committee chair Sen. David Heitmeier (D-New Orleans) and Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) stayed to listen to the opposition’s testimony.
Sen. Nevers aggressively questioned reproductive rights advocates during their testimony. Multiple times Nevers asked for documentation or data proving the assertions made by the individuals testifying against HB 388. Nevers never asked those testifying in support of the bill for any documentation supporting their many claims, nor did any other committee member.
Sylvia Cochran, an administrator at the Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans, warned the committee members of the consequences of passing a bill that would limit access to abortion. “If they can’t get it from us they’re going to get it from the street,” said Cochran.
Reproductive rights advocates are worried that if abortion access is severely restricted in the state, many of the same consequences currently being seeing in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley will be replicated in Louisiana.
In a statement released after the committee passed the bill, Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said that the law is not about protecting women’s health, but rather is designed to shut down clinics that provide abortion. “When the leading medical groups all oppose these laws because they put women’s health at risk, we have to ask why politicians continue to pass them. Just like in Texas, women and families will suffer because some legislators insist on playing politics at the expense of women’s health,” said Dalven.
Rep. Jackson offered an amendment, which was accepted without objection, that would remove any criminal penalties and only provide fines for violating the law, if it is passed. This was done, according to Jackson, to bring the bill closer to those that have been upheld by the courts.
The bill will now go to the full senate for a vote, where it is expected to pass. With the additional amendments, the bill also will need to return to the house for a vote before it is sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal for signature or veto.