Louisiana House guts abortion bill that could have sent pregnant patients to prison

By: - May 12, 2022 8:37 pm
microscopic view of in-vitro fertilization

Louisiana lawmakers declined to require health insurance plans to cover in vitro fertilization in the 2022 legislative session. (Canva image)

The Louisiana House gutted a controversial abortion bill Thursday, removing language from it that could have sent people who undergo the procedure to prison, outlawed certain forms of birth control, and criminalized parts of the in vitro fertilization process.

The rewrite has stalled the legislation, because the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, is refusing to move it forward without those unpopular provisions. 

 “Abortion is murder and as lawmakers we have a responsibility to end it,” McCormick said, as he tried to fight off the changes to his proposal. 

Anti-abortion House members overwhelmingly voted to replace McCormick’s measure with language from another anti-abortion bill sponsored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, that’s already passed the Senate. 

The bill, as amended, includes prison time and fines penalties for abortion providers, should the U.S. Supreme Court allow Louisiana to enact an abortion ban. Unlike its original version though, it explicitly exempts pregnant females who undergo abortions from criminal charges. It also includes language meant to exempt birth control and fertility treatments from being outlawed. 

Under the amended bill, abortion providers could face between one and 10 years in prison and a fine between $10,000 and $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.

McCormick’s original bill consumed lawmakers’ energy for the better part of a week and made legislators across the political spectrum uncomfortable. Still, Republicans were unwilling to vote the proposal down outright, even after the state’s leading anti-abortion groups came out against the measure earlier this week.

Conservative lawmakers feared that voting to kill any bill that prohibits abortion – even one that people widely believe is unconstitutional and unpopular – will still make it harder for them to be reelected in 2023. Instead, there was consensus among GOP lawmakers to heavily rewrite the legislation so it could be approved in the House.

The vote over McCormick’s bill drew dozens of anti-abortion protesters to the Louisiana Capitol. Several sat in the House chamber balcony, shouting support for McCormick and accusing other Republican lawmakers of “lying” throughout the debate over the legislation.

The Capitol was also briefly evacuated, when the building’s security was alerted to a suspicious, and ultimately nonthreatening, package near the Senate chamber. 

Emotions surrounding McCormick’s bill were unusually high, given the revelation last week that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to allow state abortion bans to go into place later this year. If the court throws out its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, Louisiana will have an almost all-encompassing abortion ban immediately, under a 2006 law.

While the majority of legislators support a state abortion ban, several anti-abortion lawmakers have repeatedly  said they don’t think pregnant women should be targeted, even if the procedure becomes mostly illegal. 

House Bill 813, in its original form, attempted to immediately classify all abortion as a homicide. It would have criminalized the behavior of both abortion providers and abortion-seeking patients and declared both federal laws and court rulings “void.”

It also called for the removal of state judges who enforced federal laws, a provision lawmakers told McCormick would cause the bill to be thrown out by courts immediately. 

“This bill will not prevent a single abortion from occurring, not a one,” said Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, one of the House’s most conservative members.

In spite of the concerns raised about McCormick’s legislation Thursday, the Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice voted 7-2 last week to move it forward to the House floor. Seabaugh was one of the seven Republicans who voted in favor of it, though said Thursday he regretted that decision. 

In spite of lawmakers’ objections to McCormick’s bill, the House has also blocked legislation that would explicitly prevent people from being prosecuted for trying to terminate a pregnancy.

The House criminal justice committee voted 6-4 last month to kill House Bill 1027, which would have prohibited the prosecution of people who tried to end their own pregnancy under an abortion ban. 

“In the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, we will have women that will want to terminate a pregnancy and try to do it on their own,” said Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, the sponsor of that bill. “We don’t want a woman to stay home and bleed out. We want her to go to the doctor.”

McCormick was one of the six Republicans who voted against Landry’s legislation when it came up for the committee vote.

“I don’t really understand the bill,” he told Landry. “My confusion is that this may used to legitimize abortion in the future.”

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.