May 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Louisiana abortion bill allowing homicide charges against patients stopped for now

Picture of people protesting in favor of abortion access wearing red robes

Handsmaid themed protesters march down Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 25, 2019. Photo: EMILY KASK/AFP via Getty Images

A Republican lawmaker in Louisiana on Thursday pulled a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to charge a person with homicide if they get an abortion — effectively ending the chance it would become law this legislative session.

Why it matters: The bill was different from most recent anti-abortion laws, which have focused on punishing abortion providers and people who help others obtain an abortion rather than the patient themselves.

  • The state House voted to completely amend the bill prompting its sponsor, state Rep. Danny McCormick (R), to withdraw the bill from consideration.
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who does not support abortion rights, had said that he would not support the measure if it reached his desk, calling it "patently unconstitutional ... To suggest that a woman could be jailed for an abortion is simply absurd."
  • Even anti-abortion rights groups felt the bill went too far. Louisiana Right to Life, also opposed the legislation, said that the bill was "self-defeating with no teeth [and] no enforceability."

Details: When it was introduced, Louisiana’s H.B. 813, known as the Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act, said that the state would enforce the law “without regard” of Roe v. Wade “and its judicial progeny,” including Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That case reaffirmed the right to an abortion in the U.S. in 1992.

  • The bill explicitly stated that a fertilized egg should be recognized as a person whose right to life should be protected, thus banning abortions at all stages of the pregnancy without exceptions.
  • Laws that consider the fetus or a fertilized egg to be a person or declare them to be "unborn human beings," could potentially criminalize IVF and some forms of contraceptives, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.
  • The bill said that Louisiana could "disregard" any federal court order looking to "enjoin or void" any section of the law. Additionally, if a judge in the state attempted to declare the law as unconstitutional or block it, they would be "subject to impeachment or removal."

What happened: "This is a thorny political question, but we all know that it is actually very simple. Abortion is murder," said state Rep. Danny McCormick (R) when he opened debate. Pregnant people who decide to get an abortion should be considered murderers, he added.

  • State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R), who also said he was opposed to abortion rights, was against McCormick's measure. He said that the bill would be enjoined as soon as it is signed into law because lawmakers don't have the authority to ignore "the law of the land" and cannot tell judges to not rule on a law.
  • Seabaugh proposed an amendment that effectively changed the entire bill. It removed language punishing a pregnant person and made it so that the measure would take effect only if Roe is overturned. The amendment also got rid of language that likely would have made certain contraceptives and IVF illegal.
  • The Louisiana state House voted in support of amending H.B. 813. In response, McCormick pulled the measure from the legislative calendar.

Our thought bubble: Republicans and anti-abortion groups are continuing to pass controversial laws restricting abortion even with Roe v. Wade still in place. But they appear to have drawn a line at prosecuting the person getting an abortion for now.

  • If the Supreme Court dashes Roe and gives states the authority to regulate abortion, some conservative states would have laws in place that could be interpreted to punish the pregnant person. More states could potentially follow suit.

Don't forget: Louisiana is one of the 13 states that have "trigger" laws banning abortion. Those would kick in if the Supreme Court completely overturns its precedents protecting access in the U.S. — which it might be ready to do.

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