Commentary

Why Louisiana ‘absolutely’ still has an unconstitutional abortion law

Is reading fundamental?

May 19, 2022 5:32 pm
Roe v Wade U.S. constitution

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It would be a waste of time and energy to continue to beat the near dead horse that is Rep. Danny McCormick’s anti-abortion bill. Instead, let’s look at why it should have never made it to the Louisiana House floor, who could possibly have stopped it before it got there and why the existing law isn’t much better. 

Aside from criminalizing people who obtain the procedure – a step even Louisiana Right to Life has deemed excessive – there are so many constitutional issues with McCormick’s House Bill 813 that fellow Republicans question whether he actually understands his proposal. That jury is still out.

When it became apparent that McCormick’s bill had to be scuttled, the House GOP leadership turned to Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport to lead the way. Why him? That’s unclear because Seabaugh’s status within Republican ranks has largely been that of an outsider given his tendency not to be a team player.

Perhaps it was a form of punishment for Seabaugh, who had an opportunity to prevent McCormick’s bill from advancing out of committee — or at least amend it before it moved to the full House. Seabaugh admitted as much when he appealed to colleagues in the House to add his amendments that would effectively neuter House Bill 813 as far as its criminal consequences for people seeking abortions.

“Personally, I want to apologize to each and every one of you,” Seabaugh said May 12 on the House floor. “This bill came through the (House) criminal justice committee. I sit on that committee. I should have done this on committee, and I didn’t. I voted this bill out of committee because by the time I figured out what I was supposed to do, it was too late … I didn’t have the idea soon enough.”

The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice spent 54 minutes debating and hearing testimony on McCormick’s bill on May 4. Multiple opponents and even some lawmakers pointed out the various unconstitutional elements in the proposal. 

Yet none of these arguments appealed to Seabaugh, an attorney. When asked to cast a vote on a motion to advance the bill, he responded with a firm “absolutely.” (Rep. Tony Bacala, whose background is in law enforcement, mentioned his concerns with the constitutionality of McCormick’s bill but still voted for it.)

The following week, when asking House lawmakers to kill McCormick’s bill, Seabaugh shared that he helps grade a section of the Louisiana bar exam for prospective lawyers. The subject: constitutional law.

“If any examinee read this (bill) and argued that it was not a violation of the state and federal constitution, he would fail the bar exam – immediately,” Seabaugh said.

It’s pretty clear Seabaugh failed his test May 4.

Ultimately, the House amended House Bill 813, and McCormick sent it to the sidelines indefinitely. The changes turned McCormick’s measure into a proposal similar to one that Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, has authored. It now awaits a hearing on the House floor. 

Jackson’s legislation limits criminal penalties to abortion providers, but it and other anti-abortion proposals this year do not address potential constitutional conflicts with existing Louisiana law that would take effect once the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade.

A person is defined in Louisiana’s criminal code as “a human being from the moment of fertilization and implantation.” Abortion rights advocates say this definition could lead to the  prosecution of anyone who terminates a pregnancy, not just abortion providers. 

In the rush to create tougher anti-abortion laws in Louisiana, which already has some of the nation’s strictest prohibitions on the procedure, it seems no one in the Legislature concerned themselves to figure out whether they could even be enforced.

It’s one reason to believe that, although McCormick’s bill is on life support, its concepts are very much thriving.

Greg LaRose is editor in chief for Louisiana Illuminator.

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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