By Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Nearly 300 abortion rights demonstrators gathered at the Louisiana State Capitol on Thursday to protest the ‘fetal heartbeat’ anti-abortion bill, which Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law later that afternoon.
The protestors staged a silent ‘stand-in’ outside the House and Senate chambers in opposition to the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill that landed on the governor’s desk after a 79-23 House vote Wednesday.
The law bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women are aware they are pregnant. Louisiana’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ law does not provide exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
The law will not go into effect unless a similar Mississippi law, which has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, is upheld by a federal appeals court.
“In 2015, I ran for governor as a pro-life candidate after serving as a pro-life legislator for eight years,” Edwards said in a statement Wednesday. “As governor, I have been true to my word and my beliefs on this issue.”
Pro-choice demonstrators showed up at the Capitol to fight against the abortion ban.
“These bans hurt women,” said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, the pro-choice group that organized the protest. “We’re here to show that we’re against [the law].” Tafolla said the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill infringes on women’s right to choose and prevents them from receiving proper reproductive health care.
After their silent 30-minute stand-in in Memorial Hall, the demonstrators moved outside and stood on the Capitol’s steps, chanting “Stop the bans!” and “Stand up! Fight back!”
Some protestors displayed signs reading “Protect Women’s Rights” and “Women’s Bodies are not State Property.”
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who is the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, was present and thanked protesters for their support in opposition to the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill.
“We don’t want that bill signed,” Peterson said. She also publicly criticized Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, for his position.
Supporters of the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill argue that any unborn child gains human rights after a heartbeat can be detected in the womb, even if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
“We need to make sure that we’re protecting unborn children,” said Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life. “Even though someone’s conception can occur in negative ways, it doesn’t change the biological nature of who somebody is as a human being.”
Clapper said that though rape and incest are terrible acts, he encourages holding perpetrators accountable “to the fullest extent of the law.” An unborn child, he argued, should not be punished for the offense.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, who voted for the ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill, said the state should offer more support programs for victims of rape and incest.
“It is incumbent upon us to defend life, including the life of the victim and support them throughout their recovery which can be a lifetime,” Ivey said. “To me there should be no expiration on the treatment that’s necessary.”
During Wednesday’s House debate on the bill, Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, commented that the majority of Louisianians believe the Legislature should not allow abortion in the state.
Louisiana residents generally oppose abortion more than Americans do collectively, according to a 2016 Louisiana survey by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab. The report showed that 55 percent of Louisianians think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases while 40 percent think it should be legal in all cases. About one fourth of Louisiana residents think abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Yet the anti-abortion bill sparked protests throughout the state earlier this month, including a pro-choice rally in New Orleans and abortion rights activists pouring fake blood on the floor of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
Several pro-life bills have been discussed this legislative session. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier, that would require abortion clinic physicians, administers and abortion facility owners to maintain medical records of women who have had abortions in those clinics in a 32-6 vote.
Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, who backed the bill, said he supports tracking abortion procedures because of the under-the-radar human trafficking issues.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat of New Orleans, speaking in opposition, stated that maintaining separate medical records is a “ridiculous government overreach” because the federal law already requires abortion facilities to retain the records for six years.
The bill now returns to the House.
The House also voted 83-12 to advance another anti-abortion bill, proposed by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, on Thursday. Mizell’s proposal would require abortion providers to give their patients detailed background information before performing an abortion. The proposed law also would expand the existing Women’s Right to Know law, which means that women must give informed consent prior to having an abortion.
In Louisiana, patients can research their doctor’s qualifications, but information about the identities of physicians who perform abortions is not disclosed online.
Under Mizell’s law, abortion providers would have to supply written information about their background, including qualifications, past conduct and the location of the physician’s residency.