Without any debate, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would impose regulations aimed at severely limiting access to abortion. After a photo op with about two dozen of the the bill’s more than 50 co-authors, lawmakers voted 88 to 5 on final passage of the legislation.
HB 388, sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), would require stricter regulations on abortion providers than on other physicians in the state who perform similar medical procedures. Reproductive rights advocates criticized lawmakers for the passage of the legislation and the impacts they predict it will have on women’s health in the state.
“Once against the Louisiana legislature has let down their constituents,” New Orleans Abortion Fund board member Amy Irvin told Rewire. “Our representatives in Baton Rouge have chosen to limit women’s ability to defend their families and make the best decisions for their health.”
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the bill will restrict access to safe and legal abortion. “We all want to protect women’s health and safety — this bill doesn’t do that,” said Richards. “With similar restrictions passed in neighboring states over the objection of leading medical experts, we are deeply concerned that women in a vast stretch of this country are in real danger of losing the ability to access legal abortion safely.”
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If Gov. Bobby Jindal signs the legislation—which he is expected to do—the new law would require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they provide abortions. Additionally, the new law would put in place a forced 24-hour waiting period for surgical abortions and reduce the number of abortions a doctor must perform in a given year to be considered an abortion provider.
Jackson, who worked on drafting the bill with Louisiana Right to Life and the Bioethics Defense Fund, testified during the senate committee hearing that the bill is designed to protect the lives of women. Jackson and other supporters of the legislation claim that the new regulations are needed to ensure the safety of abortion, despite overwhelming evidence that abortion is already safe and highly regulated in the United States.
During hearings and floor debates, proponents of the bill cited legislation passed in Texas as the model for the regulations. In Texas, similar regulations have led to the closure of several clinics around the state severely limiting access to abortion services. In the Rio Grande Valley, the loss of access to reproductive health care is already having devastating effects.
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.
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.
The closure of the clinics in Louisiana would continue a trend of regulations targeting abortion providers being implemented by state legislatures across the South. From East Texas across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there will be only a handful of clinics that provide abortion services to serve a population of more than 20 million.
In response to the passage of the legislation, reproductive rights advocates have called for boycotting the state. In a partnership with the other grassroots organizations who make up the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, the New Orleans Abortion Fund is asking those who opposed the legislation to vote with their wallets; they’re asking people to target the state’s tourism industry by not coming to the state for vacation.
In addition to the boycott, Irvin says that the New Orleans Abortion Fund will continue to be a resource for women, and will pivot its focus to provide logistical support for women seeking abortions. “We will also start to gather stories and work with partners to demonstrate how dangerous this bill is for women and hope to inform Rep. Jackson of the consequences of her bill,” said Irvin.
According to the Louisiana legislature’s website, if a bill is signed during the regular session it goes into effect on August 1.