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After abortion-as-murder bill is gutted, Louisiana lawmaker pulls amended proposal before vote

Rep McCormick 2.JPG
Paul Braun
/
WRKF
Rep. Danny McCormick's controversial HB813 was completely overhauled at the request of establishment anti-abortion groups, who came out against the bill late last week saying the criminalization of people who seek abortions is “inconsistent with their pro-life values."

A controversial abortion bill that would have allowed the state of Louisiana to charge doctors who perform abortions and people who undergo the procedure with murder died on the House floor Thursday after Republican state lawmakers gutted the bill at the request of establishment anti-abortion organizations.

In its original form, Rep. Danny McCormick’s HB813 would have rewritten the state’s homicide statute to redefine personhood beginning at the moment of fertilization and would afford embryos all of the legal protections that come with that status. The far-reaching implications of the legislation immediately earned the bill national attention and swift condemnation from abortion rights organizations.

But within days, some of the most influential anti-abortion groups in the state joined the chorus of opposition to the bill, saying that any legislation criminalizing “abortion-vulnerable women” was “not consistent with their pro-life policies.” Louisiana Right to Life and other organizations lobbied Republican lawmakers over the last week to undermine support for McCormick’s bill and find a lawmaker to sponsor sweeping amendments that would bring the bill in line with their position.

Their work kicked off a political tug-of-war on the extreme right-wing of the state’s political apparatus that ultimately resulted in McCormick pulling his bill from consideration after one of the legislation’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters reversed course and sponsored sweeping amendments that rewrote it in its entirety.

The amendments, sponsored by Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport), borrowed language from pending legislation that has already won the approval of the state Senate that refocuses the criminal penalties for abortions on the physicians who perform them and not the people who chose to end their pregnancies.

McCormick fought unsuccessfully against the amendments on the House floor.

“This is a thorny political question,” McCormick said. “But we all know that it is actually very simple. Abortion is murder, and as lawmakers, we have a responsibility to end it.”

But Seabaugh argued the bill was unconstitutional, specifically the language that would have allowed the state to ignore any federal judicial rulings that contradicted the would-be law and empowered the legislature to impeach and remove any state judges who attempted to block it.

“You just can’t do that,” Seabaugh said. “Look, I think Roe v. Wade was one of the worst decisions that has ever come out of the U.S. Supreme Court ever… it’s an abomination — in my opinion — but it’s the law.”

The position was a major departure from Seabaugh’s comments on the bill in committee last week. Seabaugh, a lawyer by trade, remained silent during discussions of the potential unconstitutionality of the legislation. When the committee tallied its final vote for the bill last week, Seabaugh answered with an emphatic “Absolutely” in lieu of the standard “Yea” vote. It advanced to the full House on a 7-2 vote along party lines.

But on Thursday, he apologized to his fellow House members for letting the bill out of committee.

“It looks like Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned,” Seabaugh said. “We’re on the precipice of the most significant pro-life victory in this country in 50 years,” Seabaugh said. “We should not be at each other's throats over a bill that is blatantly unconstitutional, makes criminals out of women, and, as far as I can tell, was only presented to give a couple of misguided people a platform.”

The House adopted the amendments with a 65-26 vote. McCormick pulled his bill from consideration minutes later before a final vote could be held.

“I don’t want this conversation to end, but I think it’s ended for today, Mr. Speaker,” McCormick said.

McCormick’s action spelled the end for one of the most aggressive and controversial abortion restrictions being under consideration anywhere in the country.

The criminal penalties amended onto HB813 came from the Senate-approved SB342 by Sen. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe). They would add teeth to the “trigger law” that the state passed in 2006 that would outlaw abortions from the moment of fertilization in nearly all cases if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The abortion ban in the trigger law allows for no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies that mean the child would die at birth. The law would only allow abortions in cases where a pregnancy threatens the life of the pregnant person or permanent damage to a life-sustaining organ.

SB342 won the overwhelming support of state Senators last week and could be heard in the House Health and Welfare Committee as early as next week.

Abortion rights groups argue that the scaled-back criminalization statutes in Jackson’s surviving bill could still leave pregnant people vulnerable to criminal charges from aggressive prosecutors.

And language included in the state’s trigger law and other extant and pending abortion restrictions that defines personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization would put the legality of in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control into doubt if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Last week, a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court that suggested the justices would overturn Roe v. Wade indicated to Louisiana — and a dozen or so other states — that they would more than likely see those laws take effect if the High Court’s final decision in June is the same as the draft.

The national conversation on abortion laws and rights amplified when the Supreme Court, which holds a conservative majority, agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson, a case that focuses on the 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi and could be used to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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