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Louisana Senate Passes Abortion Heartbeat Bill

And the rollback of reproductive freedoms continue:

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to advance proposals that would impose new strictures on abortion providers, including a measure to require clinicians to make an ultrasound both visible and audible to a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, pitched Senate Bill 708 — which cleared the Senate 34-4 and moves to the House — as a subtle change to her 2010 law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and giving a woman the option of watching the fetus on screen. The change, she explained, “adds an additional feature of giving a woman the option to hear the heartbeat of the unborn child.”

Yet several senators noted that Broome’s proposal, filed at the urging of social conservatives, goes beyond a simple addition. The bill also changes the time frame for the ultrasound, requiring that it occurs at least 24 hours before the procedure. Current law sets the requirement at two hours. Also, the 2010 law mandates that a provider “offer to simultaneously display the screen” and “offer to provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting.” Broome’s proposal eliminates the words “offer to,” effectively requiring the ultrasound be displayed in a way that a woman can see it and requiring the spoken description “which shall include the presence and location … the dimensions … and the presence of cardiac activity” of the fetus.

The bill includes passages stating that a woman would not be required to look at ultrasound images, but the cumulative effect of the measure as written puts the burden on the woman to turn away. A woman also could sign a form stating that she does not wish for the ultrasound to have audio. The bill states that a physician would not be subject to any penalties “solely because the pregnant woman chooses not to … view the ultrasound images or hear the heart auscultation.”

Broome’s bill would not make significant changes to existing law’s requirement that a woman be told that she can request photographic images from the ultrasound.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, proposed an amendment that clarifying that the only burden on an abortion provider is to offer to provide the verbal explanation of the ultrasound, along with an opportunity for the woman to see the images. That amendment garnered just seven votes, with 30 senators dissenting. Claitor ended up voting for the bill anyway. The four dissenting senators on the final vote were Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge; J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans; Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans; and Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.

In separate action, the Senate Judiciary C Committee voted unanimously to impose criminal penalties on anyone who performs an abortion in Louisiana without a state medical license. Senate Bill 330 by Rick Ward III, D-Port Allen, now moves to the Senate floor.

State law already requires that an abortion be performed by a physician, but the Ward measure creates a specific criminal statute. Supporters of the bill cited cases in Pennsylvania and Maryland in which doctors who had lost their licenses were performing abortions as well as fears that other groups, such as midwives, would lobby to be allowed to perform the procedure.

Ward’s bill creates two crimes: criminal abortion and aggravated criminal abortion. The first would apply to abortions not performed by a licensed physician and the latter would apply in cases where the abortion involved the dismemberment of the fetus. Anyone found guilty of criminal abortion would face a sentence of between 1 year and 5 years in prison and a fine of between $5,000 and $50,000. Aggravated criminal abortion would be punished by between 1 year and 10 years in prison and a fine of between $10,000 and $100,000.

The requirements would not apply in cases where a procedure is performed with the intent to save the life of an unborn child or in cases where the child died in the womb. Penalties also would not apply to any action or inaction by a pregnant woman.


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