House Republicans plan to remove language punishing pregnant people from abortion bill

Gov. John Bel Edwards comes out against proposal to charge abortion seekers with murder

By: - May 11, 2022 11:45 am

Protestors in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Robin Bravender/States Newsroom)

Louisiana House Republicans intend to remove language from a high-profile bill that would allow prosecutors to charge pregnant patients who undergo abortions with murder when the legislation comes up for consideration on the House floor Thursday. They also want to strip provisions meant to restrict certain forms of birth control and that could affect people who use fertility treatments to get pregnant, according to interviews with Republican lawmakers. 

Conservative Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, is expected to introduce an amendment to House Bill 813, sponsored by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, that will essentially replace the existing bill entirely with language from another piece of anti-abortion legislation sponsored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe.

Jackson’s bill includes prison time and fines penalties for abortion providers, should the U.S. Supreme Court allow Louisiana to enact an abortion ban. Unlike McCormick’s bill though, it explicitly exempts pregnant females who undergo abortions from criminal charges. It also includes language meant to exempt birth control from being outlawed. 

Louisiana’s leading anti-abortion groups have started aggressively lobbying legislators this week to make dramatic changes to McCormick’s proposal, possibly fearing it could create a backlash to other abortion bans locally and nationally if it isn’t scuttled. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards also voiced his opposition to McCormick’s bill Wednesday during a speaking engagement.

The Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice voted 7-2 in favor of McCormick’s bill last week, with every Republican committee member either supporting the legislation or absent during the vote. Since then, backing for the proposal has dried up as national outrage has grown over its criminalization of abortion recipients. 

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Lawmakers are now describing the bill as “extreme” and “a bridge too far,” though most would still prefer not to vote down  anti-abortion legislation. Instead, House members have been looking for a way to amend the bill in a way that allows lawmakers to support it when it comes up for a full House vote Thursday. 

Legislators’ reaction to McCormick’s proposal provides a window into how far Louisiana might be willing to go with criminal penalties should a state abortion ban go into place later this year. 

A leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court indicates a majority of the justices are in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that ensures legal abortion access across the country. Should Roe get overturned, Louisiana would immediately prohibit abortion under an existing 2006 state law, except in cases when the life of a pregnant patient is at risk or permanent injury to a patient’s life-sustaining organs is possible.

Senate Bill 342 from Jackson appears to update and clarify some of the language around Louisiana’s possible abortion ban. The Senate has already approved her proposal. 

Under Jackson’s bill, abortion providers could face between one and 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000 for performing an abortion on a person who is less than 15 weeks pregnant. Penalties could increase up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $20,000 to $200,000 should an abortion be performed on someone who is 15 weeks pregnant or more.

The legislation says these penalties “would not apply to a pregnant female upon whom an abortion is committed or performed” and “the pregnant female shall not be held responsible for the criminal consequences.”

The bill also says the criminal penalties would not apply to birth control administered “prior to the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing.” 

Jackson’s legislation also states that, should an abortion ban go into place, medical measures taken to remove nonviable fetuses and pregnancy material after a “spontaneous miscarriage” or ectopic pregnancy would not be considered illegal.

By contrast, McCormick’s bill would allow both abortion providers and pregnant people who undergo abortions to be charged with homicide, a crime that carries a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole in Louisiana. 

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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