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Louisiana Abortion Ban Proposal Wins Support from Senators

Louisiana would follow other conservative states in seeking to ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy, under a bill that took its first steps Tuesday in the Senate.

Senators on a judiciary committee voted 5-2 to advance the proposal to the full Senate for consideration. But they rewrote the measure by Sen. John Milkovich so the prohibition only would take effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar law in Mississippi.

Milkovich, a Keithville Democrat, objected to the link to Mississippi's law, saying efforts to lessen or eliminate abortion are worth any expense of litigation. "This is an important statement of Louisiana's devotion to protecting unborn," he said.

Opponents said the proposal would eliminate abortion as an option before many women even realize they are pregnant, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"There is no doubt that this bill is unconstitutional," said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans attorney who represents and advises abortion clinics in the state.

Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi enacted so-called "heartbeat bill" bans this year, with lawmakers considering it in several others, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.

Georgia legislators also passed a similar bill and are awaiting action from Gov. Brian Kemp, who is expected to sign it. Six-week abortion bans enacted in North Dakota and Iowa in prior years were struck down in court, according to the Guttmacher Institute. But anti-abortion activists are pushing the latest prohibition measures as another way to challenge the rights granted by the Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court.

The Louisiana legislation includes an exception from the abortion ban to prevent the pregnant woman's death or "a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function" — or if the pregnancy is deemed "medically futile." But it does not include an exception if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

Senators initially added the exception for rape and incest victims despite Milkovich's objections, but opposition from anti-abortion organization Louisiana Right to Life prompted the committee to reconsider the exception.

The committee voted 5-2 to strip the language. Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, objected to removal of the exception for rape and incest victims — and to the entire bill. "In the case of such a horrific experience, the victim should have the right to choose," Carter said.

Milkovich said he wasn't minimizing their trauma, but he added: "Killing the baby who did nothing wrong is not the right response." Testifying with Milkovich in support of the abortion ban was Jennifer McCoy, who served prison time for conspiracy to commit arsons at two Virginia abortion clinics.

Schilling called McCoy's appearance concerning, saying she worried that the rhetoric used by bill supporters incites violence.

Though senators advanced the abortion ban proposal, several supporters said they thought the language needed tweaking to spell out more clearly how a fetal heartbeat would be detected and proven.

Last year, Louisiana passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks, but that remains on hold after a federal judge struck down a similar prohibition in Mississippi.

Louisiana's law contained language that it would only take effect if a federal court upholds the Mississippi provision.