“This is Pro Life Day at the Louisiana legislature,” chairman Frank Hoffman proclaimed proudly on Wednesday morning. Then the House Health and Welfare Committee proceeded to discuss and approve four anti-abortion measures.
The first three bills were “clean-up measures”, attempting to alter laws passed in 2016 that have been embroiled in a federal lawsuit.
“This lawsuit was filed right after all these bills were passed in 2016, and it challenged seven different new laws,” explained Liz Murrill, with the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. “These are just some good ideas we think, to clean up and tighten up these bills. We think it makes them better, and will make it clear for the court that the case can be dismissed.”
The first bill heard, HB 273 by Rep. Hoffman (R-West Monroe), affects the requirement that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated.
“Sadly, the current practice is to dispose of unborn children as human waste, and Rep. Julie Stokes courageously brought the bill in 2016 to provide for burials,” Hoffman explained. “This clarifies that it doesn’t pertain to miscarriages or drug-induced abortions which take place in the home.
“It will take the challenge out of the federal courts, and keep the law on the books, as we intended,” he concluded.
That measure was sent to the House floor, without objection.
“This is the same concept,” Hoffman then said of HB 338. “I authored this one in 2016, which is the prohibition of public funding for entities that do abortions – Planned Parenthood, in particular.
“This bill’s intention was, and still is, not to allow those who perform abortions or share facilities with abortion providers to receive Medicaid funding, based on the fungible nature of money that can be misappropriated to subsidize abortion services. We’ve added a ‘legislative intent and findings’ section to make clear that this policy is consistent with current law requiring us to combat fraud and abuse committed by some healthcare providers.”
There were no questions and the bill was approved without objection.
“By the way, did I announce that this is Pro Life Day in Louisiana?” Hoffman gloated.
Next up was HB 287, by Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), a change to his 2016 bill that prohibits aborting a fetus diagnosed with genetic abnormalities. That law imposes fines and a jail sentence of up to two years for the physician who performs such a procedure.
“This is a simple bill: it just cleans up what we did then,” Edmonds said. “It states there’s no penalty on abortion providers until LDH has made the relevant information available in the appropriate booklet for women, giving them the list of resources available for children diagnosed with genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome.”
“How far is the state along in developing that booklet?” Rep. Harvey LeBas (D-Ville Platte) wanted to know.
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s in the process of being developed and printed,” Murrill responded.
“If the law was passed in 2016, why wasn’t the booklet produced before this?” LeBas asked.
“The law is currently enjoined in litigation, so there’s not going to be anything that happens until we get this clarification done,” Murrill replied.
“I want to make sure we make this tight and not give them leeway to avoid penalties,” LeBas pressed. “I’m just trying to make sure we don’t let somebody off the hook. “
“No, no, no – we’re not doing that,” Murrill reassured him. “This just makes it explicitly clear that the penalty doesn’t apply until the booklet is available.”
This bill also advanced, without objection.
The fourth abortion-related bill on the agenda was also authored by Edmonds. HB 449 will add a list of adoption agencies and counseling services to the state-produced booklet, “Women’s Right to Know”. Louisiana law mandates the book – now 24 pages in length before adding the information from Edmonds’ two bills – be given to and signed for by each woman inquiring about an abortion. (At various times over the past two decades, the document has included – at the behest of the legislature – medically spurious information, such as a statement that having an abortion increases a woman’s chance of contracting breast cancer. The state lost a lawsuit challenging that inclusion.)
HB 449 was approved, prompting Edmonds – who was vice president of the Louisiana Family Forum before his election to the House in 2015 – to declare, “This is an exciting day at the Capitol because it’s about life. I appreciate when we can stand for those who can’t stand for themselves. Life is always the right choice.”
Over the past two decades, Louisiana has spent tens of millions of dollars going to court to defend its ever-increasing restrictions on abortion. Our officials want to be part of the case that succeeds in overturning Roe v. Wade. The proof can be found in Act 467 of the 2006 regular session (SB 33) – a prospective law which prohibits abortion entirely, except to save the life of the mother, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. It would impose a ten year prison sentence on anyone performing such a procedure.
Yet one bill which could have done much toward precluding the need for abortion failed to get past its initial committee hearing. HB 499 by Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge) would require the teaching of comprehensive sex education in public schools.
“Whether you like it or not, kids are sexually active,” said proponent Nicolette Gordon. “And knowledge is important to making good decisions.”
Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger concurred. “The facts are the facts: they speak for themselves. We have some of the nation’s highest rates of HIV transmission, of STDs, and of teen pregnancy. It’s clear that what we’re doing now isn’t working.”
And while there were a stack of green cards and witnesses speaking in support of the measure, there were also several of the proud right-to-life contingent members lined up to speak in opposition.
“Purity and abstinence should be the message, not sex education,” insisted Elizabeth Demarest, who was speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum. “This bill says teach abstinence, but it also will teach about contraception. This will rob them of innocence.”
“Sexuality is a gift from God, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach children about sexuality. It’s not the state’s job,” protested Rev. Brian Gunter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pollock. “Why should my religious beliefs be violated? In Grant Parish, we don’t believe in it. We don’t want it!”
Several of those speaking in opposition insisted the bill was based on “propaganda legislation from Planned Parenthood.” But Rep. Smith wasn’t about to let that go unchallenged.
“I need to correct some misinformation,” she said, on closing. “The language in my bill comes directly from the CDC. It’s the same language and the same bill I’ve been trying to get passed since I came to the Legislature.
“You can’t say you are ‘pro-life’ if you’re not going to take care of children after they’re born – if you’re not going to educate them on how babies are conceived,” Smith insisted. “When does the cycle stop? When do we as lawmakers take responsibility and fix the problem?”
Not this year, since the House Education Committee voted 8-5 to kill the bill.