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AG Landry asks state officials to delay New Orleans funding for not enforcing abortion ban

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (left) addresses the media after a court hearing on the state's abortion "trigger laws" while Solicitor General Liz Murrill and attorney John Balhoff look on. July 18, 2022.
Paul Braun
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (left) addresses the media after a court hearing on the state's abortion "trigger laws" while Solicitor General Liz Murrill and attorney John Balhoff look on. July 18, 2022.

Attorney General Jeff Landry issued a threat to New Orleans officials Tuesday: enforce the state’s near-absolute ban on abortion or risk losing state funding for projects in the city.

In a letter to state Treasurer John Schroder, Landry called on his fellow members of the State Bond Commission to deny any state tax dollars for projects in New Orleans in response to city officials saying they won’t enforce the state’s abortion ban, which would prohibit nearly all abortions except for medically futile or life-threatening pregnancies.

Doctors who violate the law could face between one and 15 years in prison and fines of up to $200,000. The ban contains no exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest. A temporary restraining order from a Baton Rouge judge has blocked the so-called “trigger laws” from being enforced, and abortion care is still available in Louisiana.

Despite the order, Landry, who is expected to run for governor next year, has grabbed headlines in recent weeks with his hardline stance on the enforcement of the state’s abortion restrictions.

Landry has threatened doctors who have continued to provide abortion care while the ban is on hold, and told reporters that people who don’t agree with Louisiana’s efforts to criminalize abortion should “pack their bags and leave.”

The Louisiana State Bond Commission approves long-term financing for construction projects and other government spending. With his latest threat, Landry would derail a perfunctory governmental process and delay funding for projects that had already won approval from state lawmakers.

“It is my belief that a parish or municipality should not benefit from the hard-working taxpayers of this state while ignoring laws validly enacted by the people through their representatives,” Landry said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, Police Superintendent Shaun Feguson and Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson have all publicly pledged not to arrest or pursue criminal charges against people accused of violating the abortion law. Similarly, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution earlier this month asking local police and prosecutors to not enforce the ban and to avoid using city resources for that purpose.

“The Attorney General’s hostility toward reproductive freedom comes as no surprise,” Cantrell said via email. “However, what is surprising and troubling is that the attorney general would place critical infrastructure and state assets in harm’s way just to score political points for his run for governor.”

The Bond Commission is set to consider long-term funding several Orleans and Jefferson Parish projects when it meets on Thursday, including multimillion-dollar improvements to hospitals, drainage and transportation infrastructure and recreational facilities.

New Orleans City Councilmember Helena Moreno questioned Landry’s priorities in a tweet.

“I wish Mr. Landry could channel his fixation to target women and interfere in healthcare decisions to instead helping cities across (Louisiana) battling major violence including the Acadiana region where he’s from,” Moreno wrote. “It’s about priorities. In NOLA, we must prioritize curbing violence.”

The direct responsibility to prosecute abortions that violate the state ban would fall to Williams in his role as District Attorney.

In a statement released the day the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to an abortion with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Williams said his office would continue to focus on prosecuting the “most serious crimes” like murders, shootings, rapes, armed robberies and carjackings.

“It would not be wise or prudent to shift our priority from tackling senseless violence happening in our city to investigating the choices women make with regards to their own bodies,” Williams said.

The district attorney’s office did not respond to request for comment after Landry’s latest threat.

This is not the first time Landry and his Republican colleagues have used the state Bond Commission to threaten or punish political rivals. Last year, Republican members of the panel, led by Landry, delayed funding for Orleans Parish projects, including $28 million in renovations to the Caesar’s Superdome, over a vaccine-or-mask policy in the state-owned arena. After a one-month delay, the commission restored the funding for the projects when the New Orleans Saints organization agreed to refund season ticket holders who objected to the COVID policy.

Landry has previously pushed the panel to avoid financing any state projects through banks that ceased doing business with the firearm industry.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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