‘Fetal Heartbeat’ Abortion Bill Sent to Louisiana Governor, Who Will Sign It; Court Must Uphold It, by Sam Karlin

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Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, left, and Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs speak outside the State Capitol, after the House passed Milkovich's 'fetal heartbeat' bill that would ban abortions at about six weeks of pregnancy, if upheld by the courts, sending it to the governor's desk without exceptions for victims of rape and incest, on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Hodges handled the bill on the House side for its passage. Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, said he will sign the bill into law. Wednesday, May 29, 2019.

By Sam Karlin, The Advocate, May 29, 2019

Louisiana lawmakers have passed a bill that would ban abortions at about six weeks of pregnancy if upheld by the courts, sending it to the governor’s desk without exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, said he will sign the bill into law.

Supporters of the so-called “fetal heartbeat” legislation defeated proposed changes that would have exempted victims of rape and incest from the abortion ban in a lengthy and at times fiery debate in the state House Wednesday. Critics called the ban “unconscionable” without such exceptions.

“Even though I know there are horrible crimes that are committed with rape and incest … The child should not be killed and terminated because of the crime of the father,” said state Rep. Valarie Hodges, who carried Senate Bill 184 in the House.

Louisiana now joins several other states across the South and Midwest in passing a ban on abortions after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Several red states across the country are taking aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade by passing some of the most restrictive abortion laws seen in years.

The laws, including Louisiana’s newest abortion ban, will not go into effect immediately, and could be struck down entirely. Legislators tied the bill to a similar Mississippi law, which is currently making its way through the courts. If the Mississippi law is upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Louisiana’s ban would go into effect. The state has passed a host of abortion restrictions in recent years.

In another high-profile anti-abortion measure, the House refused to accept Senate changes to legislation that would ask the state’s voters to weigh in on whether Louisiana should ban abortion outright if the high court overturns the 45-year-old Roe decision, which protects the rights of a woman to end her pregnancy. The House sent House Bill 425, by Democratic Rep. Katrina Jackson, of Monroe, to a conference committee where lawmakers will clean up the final language before an expected vote to put it on the Oct. 12 ballots.

The “fetal heartbeat” measure passed the state House on a 79-to-23 vote, as a clutch of national and local news reporters crowded the side galleries of the House chamber. Twenty-two Democrats and one independent voted against the bill, while 16 Democrats and three without party affiliation joined House Republicans in voting for SB184. The Senate advanced the measure on May 6 with a 31-to-5 vote.

Edwards, who is at odds with his party nationally on the abortion issue, said shortly after the vote he ran as a “pro-life” candidate in 2015 and believes “pro life means more than just being pro-birth.” He pointed to Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reforms and LGBTQ discrimination protections he has supported since taking office in 2016. Edwards is running for re-election this year.

“I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me – and I respect their opinions,” Edwards said in a statement. “As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone.”

State Sen. John Milkovich, a Shreveport Democrat who has repeatedly pushed abortion restrictions, brought the legislation. Hodges, while presenting the bill in the House Wednesday afternoon, invoked scripture and argued the measure protects unborn babies.

“I believe the right to life is the greatest right there is,” Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said in response to accusations the bill was unconstitutional.