New Orleans — The sponsor of a bill that would have subjected Louisiana women to murder charges for abrupt abortions withdrew the proposal from debate Thursday night after House members voted 65-26 to completely renew the legislation. , eliminating criminal sanctions.
The controversial bill would have gone further against abortion than efforts by lawmakers in any other state. It would have made women who terminated their pregnancies subject to criminal prosecution for homicide.
“This is a thorny political issue, but we all know that it is actually very simple. Abortion is murder,” Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, proclaimed as he opened the debate. He noted that a majority of Louisiana lawmakers in the heavily Republican Legislature say they are against abortion rights, and briefly chided opponents of abortion rights who also oppose his bill. “We’re hesitating and trying to explain it.”
But McCormick’s move had drawn increasingly strong opposition from many anti-abortion rights stalwarts. Gov. John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, said he would veto it. The Louisiana Right to Life, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Right to Life Committee were among prominent anti-abortion opponents of the measure.
Edwards, a devout Catholic, declared that prosecuting women for abortion is “absurd.”
McCormick also disagreed, saying that a woman who has an abortion should be in the same legal position as a woman who takes the life of a child after birth. “When I give the same protection to the unborn, that’s the possibility,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.
Supporters of the bill stood firm. Dozens of them gathered at the Capitol to pray and show their support. As the group watched from the balcony of the House as the note was withdrawn, one shouted “Shame.”
The House had not yet begun debating the controversial legislation when the building was temporarily evacuated Thursday after the speaker interrupted proceedings and said an unknown and unclaimed package had been found in the capitol’s Memorial Hall, a gathering area. between the House and the Senate.
Legislation was already slowly moving one day as lawmakers tried to find a compromise on McCormick’s bill. The House recessed for more than an hour as lawmakers split into groups behind closed doors to discuss the legislation.
Pending at the time was Rep. Alan Seabaugh’s amendment. The Shreveport Republican is an anti-abortion rights stalwart. But his amendment revised McCormick’s bill and declared that women would not face criminal penalties for having an abortion. It also allowed abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman. And it removed language in McCormick’s original bill that appeared to outlaw birth control drugs and at least some aspects of in vitro fertilization.
The amendment also removed language from the McCormick bill widely considered blatantly unconstitutional: a statement that any federal law, regulation, or court ruling that allows abortion is void and that any judge who blocks enforcement of the bill’s provisions law could be challenged.
“We cannot give ourselves the power to order a court to declare future acts unconstitutional,” Seabaugh argued.
The amendment mirrors a pending Senate bill aimed at toughening Louisiana’s abortion laws that would take effect if Roe v. Wade. McCormick, as sponsor, is unlikely to advance it in the House, but the Senate version can still move forward.
McCormick’s bill, introduced in March, had drawn intense scrutiny in light of last week’sstating that the high court is preparing to overturn decisions upholding the constitutional right to abortion.
There was no sign yet that lawmakers in other states are adopting similar legislation. In Idaho, Republican state Rep. Heather Scott has proposed prosecuting women who have abortions, but a committee chairman said Friday that she would not allow it. “There are still reasonable people in the Legislature who will make sure extreme bills like that don’t get a hearing,” Rep. Brent Crane said.
Louisiana already has laws on the books that criminalize abortion, including a “trigger law” that guarantees it will be a crime if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade of 1973 that establishes the right to abortion. The statutes appear to exempt women from prosecution, although some abortion rights advocates have suggested that they need to be toughened.
McCormick has said that existing laws are inadequate to give fetuses the same protection under the law.