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In the News

La. lawmakers advance antiabortion-rights bills

The Louisiana House on Wednesday voted 85-7 to approve a bill (HB 606) that would cut Medicaid funding from abortion providers, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

The bill now proceeds to the state Senate. According to the AP/Bee, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has expressed his support for the measure (Deslatte, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).

Background

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) administration ordered the state to strip Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana of Medicaid funding following the release of misleading videos targeting the organization's fetal tissue donation program. Multiple state investigations have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

A federal judge blocked Louisiana's effort and ordered the state to continue funding cancer screenings, gynecology exams and other health services at Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. Several other states that also have tried to end funding for abortion providers are facing similar legal challenges.

Separately, the Obama administration earlier this month issued a nationwide warning to states that efforts to cut abortion providers out of Medicaid could violate federal law.

Defunding bill details

The Louisiana defunding bill, sponsored by state Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R), would ban public funding for any organization in the state that provides abortion care. It includes exceptions for cases of rape, incest, life endangerment or "medically futile" pregnancies (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/21).

According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, existing state law already prohibits the use of public funding for most abortion care. The bill would end abortion providers' funding for other services they offer, such as cancer screenings, contraception and wellness exams.

The state has two independent clinics that offer abortion care. Currently, Planned Parenthood's Louisiana affiliates do not provide abortion care in the state (Crisp, Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/27). However, the organization has shown interest in offering such services at a new clinic being built in New Orleans (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).

Comments

Several lawmakers in the state House voiced concerns that the bill could limit access to health care services. State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D), who opposed the bill, said, "If [Planned Parenthood] is providing [abortion care], I believe this stops the access to health care." She stated, "We cannot set the precedent of stopping access to health care for other reasons."

Further, opponents of the bill noted the possibility that the bill would be challenged in court, questioning whether the state has the authority to cut federal funding. State Rep. Pat Smith (D) read excerpts from the Obama administration's letter warning states of the illegality of cutting abortion providers from Medicaid.

State Rep. Mike Johnson (R), who supported the bill, also acknowledged the likelihood of a legal challenge, saying that "there's probably a good chance" the bill, if passed, would face a lawsuit (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).

La. Senate panel approves abortion delay bill

In related news, the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday voted 5-2 to approve a bill (HB 386) that would triple the amount of time a woman must wait before she can receive abortion care.

The bill, which has already passed the state House, now proceeds to the full state Senate (Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/27). According to the AP/Bee, Bel Edwards also has expressed his support for the measure.

Delay bill details

The bill would extend the state's mandatory delay before an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours. Five other states already have 72-hour mandatory delays in place. Overall, 28 states have enacted mandatory delay laws (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).

The state Senate panel removed an exemption for women who live 150 miles or more from the nearest clinic (Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/27). An earlier version of the bill would have exempted such women from the extended delay, but still would require them to delay care for at least 24 hours after the initial visit (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/7).

Comments

Abortion-rights supporters said the delay bill would impede abortion access, especially for low-income women (Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/27). Further, opponents of the bill said it would likely be challenged in court, noting that it imposes an undue burden on a legal health care procedure. According to opponents, the potential lawsuit could strain state finances (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).

The New Orleans Abortion Fund's Amy Irvin stated, "Laws restricting access to comprehensive health care, including abortion, harm all people." Calling the bill "condescending," Irvin said, "We trust (women) to know the best option for their future and their family's well-being ... Placing additional barriers on health care is unnecessary and cruel."

Separately, Angela Adkins of the National Organization for Women also spoke out against the bill by reading the names of women who died from self-induced or unsafe illegal abortions. "During times when abortion was illegal, it was also unsafe," she said, adding, "Where abortions are legal, deaths drop" (Baton Rouge Advocate, 4/27).

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D), who opposed the bill, said, "I have a problem with government telling a woman what to do with her body, period" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/27).