By Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — House and Senate lawmakers passed several abortion bills on Wednesday, less than a week after Louisiana’s governor signed the strict ‘fetal heartbeat’ ban into law.
This legislative session lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed and lobbied anti-abortion laws.
Both chambers approved the bid for a constitutional amendment, which was sponsored by Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Baton Rouge. This measure would potentially amend Louisiana’s constitution to say that it does not protect the legal right to have an abortion or to secure public funding for the procedure.
The House voted 79-20 on the measure, sending it to the Senate which approved it with a 33-5 vote.
It is now up to Louisiana voters to decide. Jackson’s constitutional amendment will be placed on the statewide ballot for the 2020 presidential election, held in November. This was changed from the original proposal, which would have scheduled the amendment for this year’s October gubernatorial primary.
The amendment would not immediately go into effect because the U.S. Constitution grants the right to an abortion under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
Legislators in the House and Senate also passed a bill that seeks to tighten the definition of abortion under state law.
The bill, proposed by Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, would redefine abortion to include language specifying medically-induced abortions.
The House approved the legislation with a 84-1 vote, while the Senate voted 32-5 for the proposal.
Intense debate erupted in the Senate when Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, confronted Franklinton Republican Senator Beth Mizell about the anti-abortion regulations.
“Women should be able to do what they want with their own bodies,” Peterson said. “This law sets women back 1,000 years.”
She also criticized supporters of the measure for rushing it onto the 2020 ballot and admonished the conference committee for stripping an amendment that would have made exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
Mizell argued the vote on the constitutional amendment is necessary because she believes “Louisiana is a pro-life state.”
“It’s hard for me to imagine a 12-year-old who needs an abortion,” Mizell said. “The idea that we’ve come to think that’s an acceptable option breaks my heart.”
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, accused the Legislature of being “pro-birth” but not actually “pro-life,” referencing failed attempts to pass legislation that would repeal the death penalty or expand health care access for mothers.
Morrell also voiced his frustration with several lawmakers and staffers who were laughing in the back of the chamber while the abortion debate was ongoing.
“When you’re having serious debate,” Morrell said, “and people are laughing and joking so loudly that people in the back can’t hear what’s going on, that’s ridiculously disrespectful.”
Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, a staunch pro-life advocate and the second-highest ranked member of the Senate, supported the anti-abortion constitutional amendment.
“Regardless of how horrible the circumstances were, that life is sacred, is precious, and it needs to be protected,” Long said. “Let’s give the public the right to say yes or no.”
A bill that would require abortion facility professionals and staff to report suspected human trafficking cases to law enforcement officials is also headed to the governor’s desk.
Sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, the proposal would mandate abortion facilities to post flyers with human trafficking hotlines in each bathroom stall.
The proposed legislation passed the Senate on Tuesday in a 33-4 vote.
These abortion bills advanced to the governor’s desk only days after Gov. John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, signed one of the countries’ most restrictive abortion bans into law last Thursday.
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.
Peterson, who is the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, doubled down on her public criticism of Edwards during Thursday’s Senate floor debate.
“Shame on any governor that signs a bill that does not have exceptions for rape and incest,” Peterson said.
Lauren Heffker contributed to this report.