Louisiana is now the ninth state this year to pass an abortion restriction that could challenge the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade. The Louisiana House of Representatives sent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) a six-week abortion ban on Tuesday, and Edwards has repeatedly said he’ll sign the measure into law.
The bill, passed 79 to 23, requires an ultrasound for any abortion being performed and bans the procedure once a physician can detect what anti-choice activists call a “fetal heartbeat.” In reality, the ultrasound isn’t actually detecting a heartbeat, at least not in the way that’s commonly understood. The developing embryo (not fetus) has an immature cardiovascular system when rhythm can first be detected, which happens as early as six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant.
The bill makes no exceptions for rape or incest. One lawmaker, Rep. Beryl Amedée (R), opposed adding such exceptions because she says it allows rapists to hide their crimes. Abortion can only be performed to prevent the death or irreversible impairment “of the pregnant women.” (The bill text ignores gender minorities who have abortions.) Should a physician perform an abortion for any other reason, they could be imprisoned for at least one year or maximum of ten.
The ban wouldn’t take effect until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decides whether to uphold Mississippi’s six-week ban. A district court judge struck down this ban three days ago, beginning his decision with, “Here we go again,” referring to a court decision last spring that blocked a 15-week ban in Mississippi.
This year, there has been an unprecedented surge in extreme abortion bans. Lawmakers are emboldened to say what they wouldn’t say aloud before: they want to completely ban abortion. The strategy is to pass abortion bans before viability — which is different for every pregnancy but generally understood to be around 24 weeks — knowing they will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, where conservative justices are expected to overturn Roe.
But making abortion illegal doesn’t mean it won’t happen, as unintended pregnancies are inevitable. It just makes abortion unsafe — particularly for low-income patients, who might not be able to afford workarounds, or patients of color, who are likelier to be targeted by law enforcement.
Unlike other states that passed near-total abortion bans this year, Louisiana’s is being signed into law by a Democrat. For local residents, this isn’t a surprise. State Democrats are known in Louisiana for pushing anti-abortion restrictions. For example, it was a Democrat, state Rep. Katrina Jackson, who introduced the 2014 law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
“I’m frustrated, I think probably best describes me these days. We have no recourse when it comes to representation,” said Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator for Hope Medical Group for Women, an abortion clinic suing the state over the admitting privileges law.
“I’m hoping that so-called Democratic leaders in the state will see repercussions from all this,” she added.
But Edwards, the only Democrat to hold statewide office, will face nothing but Republican challengers this October, when Louisiana holds its jungle primary. The filing deadline is in August.
The only way to protect abortion access appears to be through the legal system, which concerns advocates. The most immediate threat for Pittman isn’t the six-week ban but the lawsuit she’s party to as it’s now before the Supreme Court. If justices uphold the admitting privileges law, there’d be just one doctor at Hope performing abortions statewide, if that.
“This Supreme Court makes me very nervous,” said Pittman. “I’m just hoping at some point credibility does become more important to them.”
Meanwhile, patients are confused about what the law actually is. Pittman, who’s not the only staff member answering the phone, said two patients called Tuesday morning, asking if the clinic was still open and taking appointments. National attention and misinformation around recent abortion bans has led to mass confusion among patients who assume the bans are already in effect. In reality, abortion is legal everywhere in the United States, up to a certain point in pregnancy.