The abortion drug mifepristone, also known as RU486, is pictured in an abortion clinic February 17, 2006 in Auckland, New Zealand.(Phil Walter/Getty Images)
The House Committee on Health and Welfare Tuesday approved two anti-abortion bills in bipartisan votes.
Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, would increase criminal penalties for abortion providers under Louisiana’s trigger laws.
Louisiana is one of 13 states with trigger laws that go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Under a law former Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed, abortion would become illegal almost immediately upon the overturning of Roe.
Existing statute allows for prison terms of one to five years and fines of $5,000 to $50,000 for abortion providers. Jackson’s bill increases the penalties to one to 10 years of prison time and fines of $10,000 to $100,000.
Jackson included language that would prohibit criminal penalties from being applied to women who end their own pregnancies.
While Jackson’s bill would not criminalize those who undergo abortions, abortion rights advocates point out that women who end their pregnancies could still be penalized under other existing abortion statutes.
Louisiana’s criminal code defines person as “a human being from the moment of fertilization and implantation.”
This definition could allow for prosecution of anybody who ends a pregnancy, not just abortion providers.
Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, introduced a bill to prevent such prosecutions, but the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice rejected that proposal last month.
Landry has now filed a new piece of legislation asking that the House criminal justice committee form a study group to investigate whether Louisiana’s potential abortion ban could lead to criminal consequences for women who miscarry, experience a stillbirth, seek out an abortion or attempt to perform an abortion on themselves. The group would have to produce a list of recommendations by February 2023.
Ellie Schilling, an abortion rights advocate, spoke in opposition to Jackson’s bill.
“This overcriminalization will wrap other people up into it,” Schilling said. “If you’re helping somebody to get out of state to have an abortion… are you going to be charged? Are you going to be thrown in jail for 10 years?”
Jackson’s bill passed 10-2, with Rep. Travis Johnson, a Vidalia Democrat, joining the Republicans on the committee in supporting it.
Johnson also voted Tuesday in favor of Senate Bill 388, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, as the committee advanced it in a 9-2 vote. The bill would prohibit the sale of abortion-inducing medication by prescribers outside of the state.
The bill expands the definition of criminal abortion to include delivering, dispensing, distributing or providing abortifacients when the person administering the medication is not a doctor licensed in Louisiana.
In effect, the bill would ban abortion medication by mail.
The law provides for five to 10 years of prison time or a $10,000 to $75,000 fine, or both. If the pregnant person is a minor, the penalty for the medication provider could range from 15 to 50 years of imprisonment or a $15,000 to $100,00 fine, or both.
Angie Thomas, an anti-abortion advocate with Louisiana Right to Life, spoke in favor of the bill.
Thomas said she was able to obtain abortion pills online despite telling the prescribing website that she was 13 weeks pregnant, which is past the point when abortion-inducing drugs are effective.
“If they are too far along, these pills become much more dangerous and become less effective as well,” Thomas said. “I urge all of you to vote for this bill. It is about a dangerous practice and about safety of women.”
Dr. Sara Lever, an obstetrics and gynecology resident, opposed the bill.
“I love my job,” Lever said. “There are two things that I do not enjoy. The first is bad outcomes. The second is a situation like this, when a woman is at her most vulnerable point, where she has been left to feel like there are no options, like she has no control in one of the scariest times of her life.”
Lever argued that the bill would make it harder for women to access quality health care.
“I fear the proposed bill directly opposes these principles,” she said, “making women’s health care less accessible, less patient centered, less equitable, and most importantly, not more safe.”
Piper Hutchinson is a reporter with LSU Manship News Service.
Julie O’Donoghue contributed to this report.
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