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What the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court means for Louisiana abortion laws

abortion protest.jpg
Rosemary Westwood
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A group of abortion-rights advocates rallies outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 1, ahead of the court’s hearing of Dobbs. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a suit stemming from a 15-week abortion ban passed in Mississippi in 2018.

A leaked majority opinion first published by Politico shows that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe v. Wade and turn the authority to regulate — and prohibit — abortion over to the states. Louisiana is one of many states with so-called “trigger laws” that would take effect if the court officially overturns the landmark 1973 decision.

The leak prompted celebrations and protests from organizations on either side of the issue.

Benjamin Clapper, executive director of the anti-abortion group Louisiana Right to Life, said his organization would welcome a ruling along the lines of Alito's draft opinion.

"Louisiana is ready to be abortion-free," Clapper said.

Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said the decision would disproportionately affect women of color, low-income individuals and other vulnerable groups.

“If the Supreme Court does indeed issue a majority opinion along the lines of the leaked draft authored by Justice Alito, this could be a shattering blow to the right to access abortion in the United States, leaving even more people struggling to get the essential health care they need,” Odoms said in a statement.

Dozens of governors have reacted to the news, per NPR reports, though Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has not commented on the matter.

While the draft opinion is not final, the leaked document shows the court's conservative majority is willing to end the constitutional protection of abortion rights. Here’s how the decision could impact Louisiana abortion laws and the people attempting to get the procedure.

Louisiana trigger laws

Abortion-rights opponents in Louisiana have spent years preparing for the decision the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to make.

In 2006, Louisiana lawmakers passed a trigger law that would automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The law prohibits abortion in all circumstances, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Abortions would only be allowed to prevent death of the mother or permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ.

In 2019, state lawmakers pushed for an amendment to the state constitution that specifically states that the document could not be interpreted to guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion or or that the state was obligated to pay for abortions. The effort was pitched by anti-abortion rights groups as a way to inoculate the state’s trigger law and other abortion restrictions from possible legal challenges in state court if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved that amendment in 2020, officially adding it to the state constitution.

Louisiana has tied the fate of many of its proposed abortion restrictions to similar legislation passed in Mississippi and other states.

For example, in 2018 the Louisiana lawmakers passed legislation that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, but included language that would only allow the law to take effect if and when Mississippi’s similar 15-week ban was affirmed by the courts. That Mississippi restriction is the abortion ban at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering.

Louisiana lawmakers similarly passed a so-called “heartbeat bill” in 2019, which would prohibit abortions after heartbeat activity is detectable in an embryo, typically around six weeks of gestation. That cut off falls before most women are aware that they are pregnant. Louisiana lawmakers stipulated that the law would not take effect unless similar legislation in other states was upheld by the courts.

When will Louisiana abortion laws go into effect? 

The draft opinion leaked Monday is not final and does not carry the weight of law. The release of the document, which is labeled “1st Draft” and dates back to February, is unprecedented. The Supreme Court takes great pains to prevent such leaks because draft opinions are subject to change as Justices deliberate.

But if the court issues a formal decision along the lines of the leaked document — likely in the next couple of months, according to reports — Louisiana’s trigger law and the state’s near-complete ban on abortion would immediately take effect.

If the court stops short of fully overturning Roe v. Wade, but does give states more latitude to impose more pre-viability abortion restrictions, that could potentially open the door for Louisiana’s heartbeat bill or 15-week abortion ban to take effect.

How many clinics will be impacted in Louisiana?

The trigger law would immediately shutter Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics. Tight regulations and licensing requirements have winnowed down the number of clinics operating in Louisiana and the number of abortions performed here over the years.

Because of the limited number of clinics and regulations in other states, patients in Louisiana face weeks-long waits for appointments. The Louisiana clinics have been inundated with patients from Texas since that state passed a novel abortion restriction that would allow ordinary citizens to sue abortion providers and people who get the procedure.

A report from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research and policy organization found that Louisiana women seeking an abortion would have to travel the farthest distance of any in the country to reach a state where abortion would be legal in a post-Roe world.

The closest clinics for someone traveling from Louisiana would be in Illinois, North Carolina or Kansas. Illinois is the only one of those states that has passed laws affirming the right to an abortion.

What other options do Louisianans have?

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 23 states have a trigger or other law aiming to limit abortion access.

But what that map doesn’t account for is the availability of medication abortion, a common abortion procedure that can be ordered online or over the phone and mailed to people, even those who live in states where there are abortion restrictions.

Lawmakers in Louisiana and other similar states have taken steps to outlaw the practice. The Louisiana legislature is considering legislation during this year’s legislative session that would prohibit health care providers from remotely prescribing abortion-inducing pills online or over the phone and would make it illegal for such medications to be mailed to Louisiana patients.

The bill has already won the overwhelming approval of the state Senate and is awaiting a committee hearing in the House. It is likely to win the approval of the full legislature and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Public health reporter Rosemary Westwood contributed to this report.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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