La. Passes New Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

 

Louisiana lawmakers this week unanimously approved a ban on a medical procedure known as partial-birth abortion, passing the first in what could be a spate of similar state laws next year. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D), a staunch abortion foe, has not said whether she will sign the bill.

The measure uses the same words to describe the little-used late-term abortion procedure as does a federal law, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 , which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld April 18. Like the federal law, the bill does not include an exception to protect a woman's health, only allowing the procedure in life-threatening situations.

The difference is that Louisiana's bill would make it a state crime for a doctor to violate the ban, subject to a fine and one to 10 years in prison.

Although the federal partial-birth abortion ban applies in all 50 states, anti-abortion activists are targeting states whose similar bans were struck down by the courts to persuade them to write new laws that will pass judicial muster.

Like 30 other states, Louisiana enacted a similar partial-birth abortion ban in the 1990s that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Stenberg v. Carhart 2000).

"To avoid that problem this time, we decided to take the language from the federal bill and overlay it with the Louisiana civil code," said state Rep. Gary Beard (R), lead sponsor of the bill.

Beard said a state law is needed to allow local district attorneys and law enforcement officials to enforce the ban, instead of relying on federal attorneys.

Abortion rights advocates disagree. " Louisiana 's new law is completely unnecessary and a waste of the Legislature's time," said Sondra Goldschein of the American Civil Liberties Union . "It's clearly about intimidating doctors," she said.

A similar partial-birth bill was introduced in Michigan this year, but it has not moved through the Legislature, according to abortion-rights research group, the Guttmacher Institute . Michigan's Legislature remains in session until the end of the year.

"States can and should pass state partial-birth abortion laws in the model of the federal law," said anti-abortion activist Cathy Cleaver Ruse of the Family Research Council at a recent event sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Like Louisiana's Beard, Ruse says states should not rely on politically appointed U.S. attorneys to enforce the ban. (Stateline.org and the Forum are both projects of the Pew Research Center, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.)

But other anti-abortion activists say states should go beyond the federal law. Denise Burke, an attorney with the anti-abortion advocacy group Americans United for Life (AUL), told Stateline.org that states should draft new laws because "the federal law is very narrow and may not catch all the procedures being done."

AUL's Clarke Forsythe, the group's lead attorney in the Supreme Court case that upheld the federal partial-birth abortion ban, Gonzalez v. Carhart, said the group is drafting model legislation to propose next year in states that are politically receptive.

It is too soon to tell how many states will need to draft new legislation, Forsythe said, because attorneys general in some of the states may decide to revive the old partial-birth laws.

Since the high court's April decision, only Wisconsin's attorney general has ruled on the state's old law, determining it to be unconstitutional. A federal appeals court in June ruled Michigan's partial-birth law unconstitutional, because it was broader than the federal law and would prohibit certain legal abortion procedures.

Of the 31 states with blocked partial-birth bans, a political analysis by abortion-rights advocates NARAL Pro-Choice America indicates that at least 18 have legislatures with a majority of members opposed to abortion.

Beard said he and his staff drafted the Louisiana partial-birth abortion ban on their own, although state anti-abortion groups supported their efforts. The new law, he said, "will put an end to this barbaric practice in the state of Louisiana," adding the Legislature must remain vigilant, because doctors "will look for other methods of continuing to commit this horrible crime." (Beard is leaving the Legislature, which end its session June 28, to run for lieutenant governor in this year's elections.)

Of approximately 1.3 million abortions performed in the United States in 2000, 2,200 were partial-birth procedures, according to Guttmacher. Some 400 partial-birth procedures were performed in Louisiana last year, Beard said.

In addition to Louisiana, 30 other states passed partial-birth bans in the 1990s: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Utah.

 
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