BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - As they try to beat back new restrictions in Louisiana, abortion rights supporters have keyed into a sensitive issue for lawmakers, the state’s ongoing financial problems.
Opponents of a half dozen bills moving through the Legislature that seek to put more constraints on abortion have argued passage would lead to lawsuits, which would cost the cash-strapped state money it doesn’t have to spend on expensive litigation.
The argument, while a new twist in the annual debate over abortion rights, has done little to persuade lawmakers, who have indicated they’re willing to pony up for the expense.
Louisiana is one of the nation’s most anti-abortion states. Proposals to add new restrictions to abortion don’t divide Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana and regularly get overwhelming, bipartisan support.
This year’s bills so far have sailed through each stop, though none has reached final passage yet. Most of the proposals’ chances of reaching the governor’s desk appear strong, with Gov. John Bel Edwards directly pushing two of the bills.
The Democratic governor is proposing to make women wait three days to get an abortion and to strip Medicaid financing from Planned Parenthood if the organization starts performing abortions at its New Orleans clinic.
A woman in Louisiana currently has to wait 24 hours from the time she consults with a doctor and gets a mandatory ultrasound to the moment she gets an abortion. The proposal, one step from final passage, would require a woman to wait 72 hours.
Supporters say the extension would give women more time to consider alternatives.
“It can certainly help depress later regret,” said bill sponsor Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.
Opponents say if passed, the 72-hour wait likely would face a court challenge for creating an undue burden to a legal medical procedure.
Lawyer Ellie Schilling, who represents several of Louisiana’s abortion clinics, raised several criticisms in her testimony to the Senate health committee, including that the state “doesn’t have the money” to afford the inevitable lawsuit.
Louisiana has a $600 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, threatening deep cuts to health and education programs - and the state already is tied up in multiple lawsuits over previous anti-abortion decisions.
Schilling’s argument, however, didn’t stop the bill from advancing.
State budget troubles also were raised during debate on the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, if the organization performs abortions in Louisiana. The House-approved bill awaits consideration in the Senate.
A federal judge has blocked previous Louisiana efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. That hasn’t slowed support for the proposal.
“It’s a good piece of legislation that advances the well-established public policy of our state,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.
Opponents said the ban would lessen needed health services for the poor.
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, questioned the possibility of another lawsuit.
“There’s probably a good chance it will be challenged, as many of our pro-life statutes are. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to do the right thing because someone threatens litigation,” said Johnson, a congressional candidate.
James talked of the “financial crisis” and said lawmakers “continue to pass legislation that we know will land us in court.” But he, too, voted for the bill.
Other abortion restrictions advancing in the Louisiana Legislature would prohibit abortions performed because the fetus is determined to have a genetic abnormality and would require doctors who perform abortions to be either board certified or certifiable in obstetrics and gynecology, or family medicine.
The state’s budget again came up in House health committee discussion of a proposed ban on a second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation, except if necessary to prevent “serious health risk” to the mother.
“It will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend during a budget crisis we are all well aware of, the end resulting being that the law will mostly likely be declared unconstitutional,” Schilling told lawmakers.
Again, the argument didn’t sway lawmakers who touted “Pro-Life Day” at the state capitol that day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers Louisiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow her at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
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