The Louisiana Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would impose regulations on abortion providers, severely limiting access to abortion services in the state. Lawmakers and supporters of the bill shared congratulatory hand shakes and posed for pictures even before the vote on the bill, which is modeled after a Texas law that has had a devastating effect on women’s access to reproductive health-care services.
HB 388, sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), passed the senate with a 34-3 vote. The legislation would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where abortions are performed. The bill would also implement a forced 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.
An amendment to remove the requirement that the admitting privileges be at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic was offered by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans). Morrell, a member of the Rural Caucus, explained that with the lack of hospitals in many parts of the state he worried about the precedent the requirement would set. “It’s a very arbitrary number,” said Morrell.
Morrell’s amendment, which was defeated 34-3, would have still required abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital, and it would additionally require the hospital to have obstetrical or gynecological health-care services. “If the goal of the bill is to care for the health of women, then the hospital should have obstetrical or gynecological services,” he said.
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When other state senators asked whether there’s an abortion clinic in a rural area in the state that does not have a hospital within a 30-mile radius, Morrell clarified that he was concerned about the precedent the bill would set. “There are several different types of doctors that currently perform surgical procedures that have no hospitals within 30 miles,” said Morrell. “A 30-mile requirement for other doctors would make it impossible for procedures to be performed in certain areas of the state.”
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) spoke against what she called a “terrible bill,” and criticized the effect the legislation would have on women’s access to abortion services in the state.
“This bill will seriously impede a woman’s ability to access a procedure that is perfectly legal in the state,” said Peterson. “Clearly this is deeply personal decision for women, and a complex decision that women often struggle with. The bottom line is that this a decision a woman should make and not a politician.”
Last week, reproductive rights advocates held a rally at the state capitol in Baton Rouge to protest the effect the legislation would have on women’s reproductive health care in the state.
Reproductive rights advocates claim the legislation would close at least three of the state’s five abortion clinics. The two clinics that would likely remain open are both located in Shreveport, which is in the northwestern corner of the state, more than 300 miles away from New Orleans.
Access to safe, legal abortion care in Louisiana is already highly restricted. Women seeking an abortion in the state must receive state-directed counseling and a forced ultrasound, and minors seeking an abortion must obtain parental consent. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 92 percent of Louisiana counties had no clinics that provided abortion services and 63 percent of Louisiana women lived in those counties.
The passage of the bill through the full state senate is likely the legislation’s last major hurdle. Having previously passed the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare with some amendments, the house will now have to pass the bill in its current form or create a conference committee to reconcile the current bill with the bill that passed by an overwhelming vote in the house.