Bill that would have placed the question of abortion access before Louisiana voters fails

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A bill that ultimately would have let voters decide whether abortions should be legal in Louisiana, a state with a near-total ban, failed after a Republican-controlled committee rejected it Monday.

The legislation proposed an amendment to Louisiana's constitution that would enshrine reproductive rights for women, including allowing contraceptives such as birth control, access to abortions and infertility treatments. If the measure advanced, it would have been placed before Louisianans to vote on the amendment. However a GOP-controlled committee voted 10-2 to involuntarily defer the bill, effectively killing the measure.

“I don’t see this as a pro-abortion bill. I see this as a pro-medical treatment bill,” Democratic Rep. Aimee Freeman, who authored the legislation, said during a committee hearing Monday.

Louisiana has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, with Black women disproportionately impacted, according to state health data. Freeman argued that the amendment is essential to provide pregnant patients “full access to treatments.”

Louisiana’s abortion law went into effect in 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade after nearly a half-century of a nationwide right to abortion. The only exceptions to the prohibition are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the patient in continuing the pregnancy and in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies — when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

However, some doctors, medical experts and advocacy groups have argued that the law has a “gray area" over who exactly can receive an abortion. Opponents of the ban say doctors will opt not to proceed with necessary abortions out of fear of punishments, including jail time or hefty fines, if they misinterpret the law. Proponents of the current law say the restrictions and exceptions are clear.

Among those who have been affected by Louisiana's abortion law is Nancy Davis, who during the summer of 2022 was advised by doctors to terminate her pregnancy after they found that the fetus she was carrying had no skull and was expected to die soon after birth. However, doctors said they would not perform the procedure and Davis ended up traveling to New York for an abortion.

“Imagine if it was your daughter, your sister or your mother and their lives were in danger because of a pregnancy,” Davis said at the hearing Monday. “Would you still say she should continue even if it may kill her?”

While opponents of the legislation acknowledged there should be additional and improved health care for women, they said this bill is not the answer.

“Abortion isn't health care. Abortion is ending the life of someone. And it's not ending the life of the woman carrying the child. It is ending the life of someone in the womb,” said GOP Rep. Emily Chenevert.

Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Nearly every ban has been challenged with a lawsuit.

Most Democratic-led states have taken steps to protect abortion access, particularly by seeking to protect doctors and others from prosecution for violating other states’ bans.

While there’s far from a universal consensus about abortion, public opinion polls nationwide, and some in Louisiana as reported by the The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, have found that the majority oppose the most restrictive bans but also oppose unchecked abortion access at all stages of pregnancy.

The issue is far from settled, as rallies for both sides of the issue, court battles and the filing of related legislation continue.

In Louisiana, additional abortion-related bills — including ones that aim to at add exceptions to the abortion prohibition for cases of rape and incest, clarifying “vague language” in the law and decreasing the punishment for doctors convicted of performing illegal abortions — have been filed for this legislative session. Similar measures were proposed last year, but failed to gain approval from the GOP-dominated legislature.