Louisiana lawmakers reject measures aimed at clarifying medical exceptions to abortion ban

By: - May 16, 2023 12:29 pm
A woman walks into an empty amphitheater

A Louisiana House of Representatives committee killed two proposals aimed at clarifying the medical exceptions to Louisiana’s strict abortion ban. (Otto Kitsinger for States Newsroom)

A Louisiana House committee overwhelmingly rejected two pieces of legislation Tuesday seeking to clarify when an abortion is still legal due to medical complications, in spite of doctors repeatedly complaining over the past year that the current abortion ban is unclear on this matter. 

Lawmakers in favor of the legislation believe the bills may have been rejected, in part, over a fear they could be amended to carve out additional exceptions to the abortion ban for pregnancies that result from rape and incest. The committee voted down other proposals to allow rape and incest exceptions last week.

House Bill 461, sponsored by Rep. Mary DuBuisson, R-Slidell, was supposed to clear up confusion over when legal abortions could be provided to a person who is already losing their pregnancy.

“The bill will not enhance access to abortion. On the contrary, it will keep our pro-life position in Louisiana,” she said. 

Doctors and women have struggled to end unsuccessful pregnancies in Louisiana over the past several months. Current law requires people to carry pregnancies until their own health is threatened, said Ellie Schilling, an attorney who represents abortion rights groups. This results in people having to stay pregnant for weeks or months even after doctors determine a pregnancy will ultimately fail, she said.

“There is nothing natural about leaving a doctor’s office or a hospital with a dead or dying baby inside of you,” DuBuisson said. “What [the bill] will do is prevent a woman from having to carry a dead fetus to term.”

Anti-abortion advocates pushed back on DuBuisson’s characterization of her bill, saying the legislation would legalize elective abortions in the first few months of pregnancy. Lawmakers should question the proposal, given that its backers include abortion rights supporters, they said.


Republicans on the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice sided with the anti-abortion witnesses and voted down DuBuisson’s on an 8-5 vote.

They also rejected House Bill 598, sponsored by Rep. Candance Newell, D-New Orleans, which would have explicitly stated abortion is legal when used to remove an ectopic or molar pregnancy, conditions that cannot result in a successful birth.

Doctors testified Newell’s bill would have given physicians peace of mind and lifted some fear that they could be prosecuted for terminating a pregnancy.

“Many, many women present with pregnancy complications to the emergency department first,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, an emergency room physician and director of the New Orleans Health Department. “I don’t know of any other condition that we treat as physicians where we have to worry about some sort of legal ambiguity.”

Republicans on the criminal justice committee called the proposal unnecessary and voted it down on an 8-5 vote. Molar and ectopic pregnancy complications were accounted for in the current abortion ban, they said.

“Everything you just talked about I think is covered in the law already,” Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, told doctors who came to testify in favor of the bill. 

Newell and DuBuisson had tried to get their proposals moved to the House Health and Welfare Committee, where they thought they stood a better chance of passing, but the chairman of that committee, Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, rebuffed their efforts.

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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.