Committees in both chambers of the state Legislature on Wednesday advanced bills aimed at further restricting abortion procedures in Louisiana.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved two measures: Senate Bill 593, which would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks, and House Concurrent Resolution 11, which asks Congress not to fund Planned Parenthood.
At the same time, the House Health and Welfare committee backed Senate Bill 708, which would give women the option to listen to their unborn baby’s heartbeat before receiving an abortion.
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said Wednesday would be remembered as a great day in the fight against the procedure that terminates pregnancy. He noted that a “right-to-life” group hosted a breakfast for legislators that was followed by simultaneous hearings on two anti-abortion bills on both sides of the State Capitol.
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee without objection approved a substitute version of SB593 and shipped it to the Senate floor for debate. The legislation will get a new bill number because it was so substantially rewritten.
The legislation, sponsored by Senate President John Alario, is called the “Viable and Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”
“Pain can be inflicted on those of 20 weeks. This bill seeks to give them that extra protection,” said Alario, R-Westwego.
As explained, the Senate committee version would ban abortions 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is 22 weeks gestational age. There would be exceptions in instances where it would be “medically futile” because the life is unsustainable outside the womb and when the life and health of the mother would be in jeopardy.
“I believe this is constitutional,” said law school professor Teresa Collett, of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minn., and a national expert in the area of abortion litigation. Collett said six states have adopted similar laws and there has yet to be a constitutional challenge brought.
Dr. Anita Showalter, an assistant dean at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Wash., said the legislation would not take away a woman’s right to an abortion but rather require decisions to be made earlier. She said the legislation puts the state on record “in favor of life and against inflicting pain.”
Opposition came from Dr. Deborah Taylor, a Baton Rouge obstetrician-gynecologist, who argued that the legislation could pose problems for physicians and their patients. “You are tying the hands of the patient and physician to make those very difficult decisions,” Taylor said.
On the other side of the State Capitol, the House Health and Welfare committee approved SB708, sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge. The legislation would require women to hear the heartbeat and watch an ultrasound of the unborn fetus unless they specifically refuse. SB708 also would change the wait between examination and procedure from two hours to 24 hours.
One of Broome’s constituents, Jacquelyn Hawkins, testified against the legislation. She said the additional provisions, such as listening to the fetal heartbeat and establishing a waiting time that would require at least two trips to the clinic before an abortion would be done, create hurdles that are aimed at killing the woman’s spirit.
“Is it the state’s goal to drive her insane by adding insult to injury?” Hawkins said. “This is state-sanctioned abuse. Abortion is a legally sanctioned procedure.”
The committee advanced SB708 without objection to the full House.
After the hearings concluded, Julie Mickelberry, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Inc., issued a prepared statement. “Today, legislators ignored the health-care needs of Louisiana women. They passed bills out of committee that threaten women’s health and restrict their doctor’s ability to provide them with the care they need.”
On a 3-2 vote, the Senate health committee approved another anti-abortion measure aimed at stopping federal funds going to Planned Parenthood. HCR11, which has passed the House and now goes to the full Senate, would ask the U.S. Congress to defund activities of the group that deals with women’s health issues and family planning.
“I’m sure they do many good things but they lead the nation in abortions,” said Rep. Frank Hoffmann, the resolution’s sponsor.
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