Louisiana’s Democratic Governor Signs Abortion Ban Bill

Nearly three decades ago, when his wife was 20 weeks pregnant with their first child, a doctor discovered their daughter had spina bifida and encouraged an abortion. The couple refused. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has repeatedly bucked national party leaders on abortion rights, is about to do it again. He’s ready to sign legislation that would ban the procedure as early as six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, when the bill reaches his desk. In this Sept. 20, 2018, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards talks in Baton Rouge about an expected $300 million-plus surplus the state expected from the last budget year. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Even as Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a strict abortion ban Thursday, a reproductive rights advocacy group said the law has little chance of going into effect anytime soon.

The Louisiana House gave final passage to the bill Wednesday with a 79-23 vote and the Senate passed it with a vote of 31-5, joining five Republican-dominated states that have recently signed similar measures. The ban would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat has been detected, or as early as six weeks, which is well before some women realize they are pregnant.

The law does not make exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest.

Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio have passed their own so-called “fetal heartbeat bills,” while Missouri just passed a measure to ban abortion after eight weeks and Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion.

None of these bills are currently in effect.

“Accessing abortion in Louisiana is already a challenge,” the Center for Reproductive Rights said Thursday in an emailed statement. “But it’s noteworthy that 23 members of the Louisiana House voted against the bill, and we know that many advocates on the ground fought against it.”

Edwards, a Democrat who ran for office on an anti-abortion platform and is up for re-election this year, had said he would sign the law from the start, saying in an emailed statement that he shares the same views as the majority of people in his state, who he described as being “overwhelmingly pro-life.”

Prior to signing the bill, Edwards said he expected his decision would disappoint his party and said he would “call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunities for everyone.”

The law, however, has little chance of going into effect any time soon, as its survival is contingent upon the passage of a similar ban in Mississippi which was blocked by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama appointee, in Jackson, Mississippi just last week.

Even if the Mississippi ban were to clear the district court, it would have to prevail in the Fifth Circuit before the Louisiana law could take effect.

“It’s important to remember this law is not in effect,” Elisabeth Smith, Chief Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Thursday in an emailed statement. “The law stipulates that it will not be enforced until the Fifth Circuit rules on the same ban passed in Mississippi – a ban we successfully blocked in court just last week.”

Smith’s statement continued: “Despite the onslaught of attacks we are seeing, abortion is still legal in all 50 states, and we are fighting to make sure it stays that way. Bans like this one have been passed before, but they have always been struck down in court.”

In previous legislative sessions, similar bills were passed in North Dakota and Iowa but they were rejected by federal judges and never went into effect.

Kentucky’s bill has been blocked by a federal judge and the American Civil Liberties Union recently challenged Ohio’s law. Women’s reproductive rights’ advocates such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have said they will challenge Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” long before January 2020, when it is slated to go into effect.

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