Two Anti-Abortion Bills Gain Bipartisan Votes

Protesters demonstrate in the Louisiana State Capitol Building to oppose restrictions to reproductive healthcare. Photo Credit: New Orleans Abortion Fund

The House Committee on Health and Welfare approved two anti-abortion bills in bipartisan votes on Tuesday.

As the United States Supreme Court is discussing overturning Roe v. Wade and many across the nation are facing the reality of potentially losing the protection of their abortion rights, the Louisiana House Committee for the Administion of Criminal Justice advanced legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge anyone that undergoes or performs an abortion with time in prison, fines, or both.

Talks of legislation have vamped up since Politico obtained a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would likely overturn the historic holding of Roe v. Wade on federal constitutional rights to an aborition, marking the most consequential decision on women’s reproductive health in decades.

The Supreme Court has confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents, but the highest court did not yet make a decision on the court. Though, it does seem that five justices – Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This has sparked discussions – and marches – throughout the nation, even leading the legislation being passed and motioned for, including in Louisiana. Two anti-abortion bills have been voted on this week already, both being referred now to the House Legislative Bureau.

The legislation would bolster the lawmakers abilities with redefining when personhood begins. The law (HB 813) would allow the state to disregard any federal rulings that contradict it. Louisiana’s criminal code defines a person as “a human being from the moment of fertilization and implantation.”

The issue is, however, that many people’s facts and arguments are off. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights group that tracks abortions, a majority of abortions actually take place early on into a person’s pregnancy with the use of medications. The Institute notes that overall, nearly 9-in-10 abortions happen during the first three months of a pregnancy.

Even still, Louisiana is currently one of 13 states with trigger laws in place that would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court was to overturn Roe v. Wade. Under a law signed by former Governor Kathleen Blanco, abortion would almost immediately become illegal within Louisiana if the precedent is overturned.

Senate Bill 342, which is sponsored by state Senator Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), would increase criminal penalties for those who perform abortions.

Existing statute allows for prison terms of one to five years and fines of $5,000 to $50,000 for abortion providers. Jackson’s bill increases this from one to 10 years of prison time and fines of $10,000 to $100,000.

“This overcriminalization will warp other people up into it,” Abortion Rights Advocate Ellie Schilling told the Louisiana Illuminator. “If you’re helping somebody to get out of state to have an abortion…are you going to be charged? Are you going to be thrown in jail for 10 years?”

There is additional language in Jackson’s bill, however, that would prohibit criminal penalties from being applied to people who end their own pregnancies. However, the definition of a person could allow for prosecution of anyone who ends a pregnancy, not just abortion providers.

“Overcriminalization will lead to discriminatory encorfemcent and intrusive criminal investigations. This is especially dangerous because the provisions that claim to protect the pregnant woman from prosecution will not be sufficient in many instances,” Activist Julie Schwam Harris wrote in an email.

Harris also pointed out that there is no sufficient language around contraception within Jackson’s bill.

“Given the potential for extensive jail time, the language of the bill will prevent people from obtaining common forms of FDA approved contraception, including some IUDs and emergency contraception,” Harris wrote. “SB 342 is unnecessary and overcriminalization will have negative consequences for many in our State, including sexual assault survivors seeking access to emergency contraception.”

Last month, Representative Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans) introduced a bill that would prevent these prosecutions, however. The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice rejected the proposal.

Though, about two-thirds of Americans are on Landry’s side and do not support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That said, seven-in-ten United States adults say that they are in favor of some degree of restrictions on abortion rights, including 52 percent of Democrats, according to a poll of 1,304 U.S. adults conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from May 9 through 13.

More than 80 percent (82 percent) would like to see abortion permitted at any time during pregnancy to protect the life or health of a pregnant person, and 75 percent of people oppose making abortion a crime that requires fines and/or prison time.

Landry has filed a new piece of legislation asking for the House Criminal Justice Committee to investigate the potential abortion ban and how it could lead to criminal consequence for women who miscarry, experience stillbirths, seek out abortions, or attempt to perform abortions themselves.

The group Landry is requesting for would have to produce a list of recommendations by February 2023.

Senate Bill 388, which is sponsored by Senator Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), would prohibit the sale of certain abortion-incuding drugs without a prescription and it provides for even more criminal penalties. This expands the definition of criminal abortion to include delivering, dispensing, distributing, and providing abortions when the person is not a doctor licensed in Louisiana.

This means the bill would ban abortions by medication sent by mail.

The NPR poll found that 51 percent of people oppose allowing abortion-inducing prescriptions sent by mail.

The law lays out five to ten years of prison time or $10,000 to $75,000 fines, or both. If the pregnant person is a minor, the penalty for the medication provider can increase to 15 to 50 years in prison, a fine of $15,000 to $100,000, or both.

“I fear the proposed bill (is) making women’s health care less accessible, less patient centered, less equitable, and most importantly, not more safe,” Dr. Sara Lever, an obstetrics and gynecology resident, told the Louisiana Illuminator.

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