Analysis: Louisiana will have new abortion limits beyond ban
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — While Louisiana’s ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy drew the nation’s attention, Gov. John Bel Edwards and lawmakers enacted other new abortion clinic regulations that are more likely to land the state in court.
Louisiana was the fifth state to enact a prohibition on abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, with a bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting its passage. Edwards, a Democrat, drew scorn from within his own party as he quickly signed the bill into law.
But lawmakers already had added a caveat that will keep the ban from taking effect anytime soon, if ever. Louisiana’s law only begins if Mississippi’s similar law, which is currently blocked by a federal judge, is upheld by a federal appeals court.
Other new laws criticized as chipping away at abortion access take effect much more quickly.
Those measures lengthen the time clinics must retain patient records, require women seeking an abortion to receive lengthy background information about the doctor performing the procedure, and limit abortions done via medication to Louisiana’s three licensed abortion clinics.
Edwards signed the legislation with little fanfare. Two laws began immediately, while the medication abortion regulation takes effect Aug. 1.
Abortion rights supporters and the state’s abortion clinics haven’t publicly said whether lawsuits challenging the laws are imminent. But they ardently objected to passage of the bills, describing them as ploys to create additional hurdles to access.
Nearly every other move lawmakers made in recent years to heap new restrictions on abortion clinics and their doctors have found their way into federal court. Many abortion regulations enacted by the Legislature remain on hold, amid federal lawsuits objecting to the restrictions as placing an unnecessary burden on women’s rights.
Among the latest new laws, one sponsored by Republican Rep. Raymond Crews, of Bossier City, boosts the records retention requirements of abortion clinics. The facilities will have to keep records of the procedure for seven years when the woman is 18 or older — and until a woman is 28 years old, if she was younger than 18 when she got an abortion. The records must be kept for 30 years if any child abuse was reported.
Violators of the law could face large civil fines and license suspension or revocation.
During committee testimony, Crews and Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office said the longer retention period will help combat human trafficking by having records available to investigators. They accused abortion clinics of destroying records and trying to obstruct sexual assault investigations. Opponents called those claims untrue.
A second measure by Republican Sen. Beth Mizell, of Franklinton, requires women seeking an abortion to get written information that includes details about the physician’s board certifications, malpractice insurance, and any disciplinary actions against the doctor.
Mizell said the information “is critical and is relevant to the health and safety of the women of this state.”
Opponents said the law will provide women with lengthy, confusing information that might make them unnecessarily worried about the safety of a legal health procedure.
“This bill is not actually seeking to improve the health of women in Louisiana. Rather, it is intended to be burdensome,” Michelle Erenberg, executive director of women’s rights organization Lift Louisiana, said in a statement read to a Senate committee.
A third new law starting in August, by Republican Rep. Frank Hoffmann of West Monroe, will require abortions done via medication to be performed only at Louisiana’s three licensed abortion clinics, not in a gynecologist’s office. Medication abortions are administered through pills that induce miscarriage at early stages of pregnancy.
Hoffmann described it as “a pro-life bill” clarifying the legal definition of abortion.
Abortion rights supporters said the law change makes access more difficult, shrinking availability of the medication from doctor’s offices around the state to clinics only in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
“With other bills we passed, those clinics may cease to exist,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, opposing the measure on the Senate floor. “This bill is aimed with the purpose to get rid of medication abortions as an option.”
A federal judge eventually may be asked to review that assessment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte