News Human Rights

Louisiana Committee Passes Bill That Would Keep Pregnant Women on Mechanical Support Against Their Wishes

Teddy Wilson

After emotional testimony given by opponents of a bill that would allow the state of Louisiana to invalidate any advance directives when a patient is pregnant, regardless of the viability of the fetus, a committee voted to pass the bill and send it to the full senate.

After emotional testimony given by opponents of a bill that would allow the state of Louisiana to invalidate any advance directives when a patient is pregnant, regardless of the viability of the fetus, a committee voted to pass the bill and send it to the full senate. If passed by the senate and signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, the bill would make it legal for the state to prohibit a family from directing physicians to remove mechanical support from a brain-dead pregnant woman.

The sponsor of the proposed law, Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans), told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that the legislation would not take away anyone’s rights. “It just gives a voice to the unborn child,” said Badon. “You can still die a natural death.”

HB 1274 would prohibit the “withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining procedures from a pregnant woman.” The bill does make exceptions for when maintaining mechanical support would not “permit the continuing development and live birth of the unborn child,” or would be “physically harmful to the pregnant woman,” or “[c]ause pain to the pregnant woman that cannot be alleviated by medication.”

The bill is similar to a Texas law, which led to a lawsuit filed by Erick Munoz against a hospital that said it had no choice but to keep his wife, Marlise, who had been declared brain-dead, on mechanical support to continue her pregnancy, despite her end-of-life directives and family’s wishes. The case drew national attention and debate over the role state government should play in becoming involved in the end-of-life decisions of pregnant women.

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“No matter how noble the intentions of this bill, it is wrong-headed and a problem,” said Julie Schwam Harris, a state resident who opposes the bill, in her testimony. “It relegates a pregnant woman to an inferior status, different from men and different from non-pregnant women.”

Melissa Flournoy, a reproductive rights advocate, also testified at the hearing, saying that families should have the right to make end-of-life decisions and that the bill represents a “tremendous” state overreach. “If a family wants to keep a love one alive to incumbent a fetus, there is no state law that will prevent them from doing that,” said Flournoy. “We need to trust our families and our physicians to make end-of-life decisions.”

Both women shared personal stories of end-of-life decisions they experienced with relatives, and each showed emotion and held back tears during their testimony.

Badon responded to the testimonies by saying that even if someone has a will circumstances can change. “Do you really want a great uncle that someone has not seen in 25 years making a decision like this?” asked Badon. “The legislation ensures that if their is any ambiguity that the decision is based purely on the trust of the OB-GYN.”

The bill, which passed the house by a vote of 95 to 0, will now move to the full senate. If passed by the senate unamended it will be sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal for signature or veto.

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