Louisiana abortion clinics are struggling to cope with an influx of patients crossing the border following a controversial new abortion ban in Texas.
Texas law, called SB 8, is the most extreme abortion ban to come into effect in the United States since the passage of Roe vs. Wade nearly 50 years ago, and that sparked speculation that other states dominated by anti-abortion politicians, including Louisiana, might try to pass a similar law. A Florida lawmaker is I’m already trying to do that.
SB 8 prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when many people do not know they are pregnant and without exception for victims of rape or incest. Since its inception in early September, the phones of Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport have been ringing nonstop.
Kathaleen Pittman, the administrator of the abortion clinic, said some women missed the deadline by just a day.
“They are literally calling as they walk through the door of the Texas clinic,” she said.
Women from east Texas have long traveled to Shreveport for abortions, but the clinic is now taking patients from as far as the border town of McAllen, some 500 miles away. The other day, Pittman drove a Houston woman to an exam room for her ultrasound.
“She was on the verge of tears, so grateful that she got in,” Pittman said. “Women should not be fighting for care. They shouldn’t struggle or feel that desperation.
With such demand, people are scheduled for appointments three weeks later, and some are referred to clinics in other states because they are too far advanced to be treated in Hope, which performs abortions until. at 16 and a half. weeks of gestation.
Six-week abortion bans aren’t new – Louisiana passed one a few years ago. The laws are often referred to as “heart rate bills” because they prohibit abortion after heart activity is detected from embryonic cells that eventually form the heart. But all of them have been blocked by federal courts.
What makes this law different is that instead of being enforced with state criminal penalties, anyone can sue an abortion provider or anyone else who could have helped a woman to get herself. have an abortion in civil court and potentially receive $ 10,000 in damages.
This new enforcement mechanism removes the usual process of reviewing other anti-abortion laws in federal court, where the state is usually the defendant in the case. As a result, a majority of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices allowed the law to come into force.
Michelle Erneberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, a group that advocates for access to abortion, called SB 8 “an incredibly cynical law.”
“It’s an attempt to bypass federal courts,” she said. “It incites individual citizens to retaliate against those providing abortion care, essentially turning an individual anti-abortion activist into a bounty hunter. “
She said the law is delaying abortions throughout Louisiana because women in Texas seek treatment at one of three clinics in Pelican state, making them more complicated, expensive and sometimes impossible to obtain. The situation was made worse by Hurricane Ida, which struck just after the Texas law came into effect and caused the loss of power at clinics in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“Two of the only three remaining clinics in Louisiana were offline, unable to provide services to people in Texas who could no longer access abortion care in their own state,” she said.
Louisiana has one of the most anti-abortion state legislatures in the country. Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said the Capitol Hill’s reputation for supporting anti-abortion bills could make Texan-style law possible.
“It’s definitely something we’re going to think about and learn,” said Benjamin Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, but noted that there was a long month of waiting before politicians returned to Baton Rouge in March for the next session.
Representative Beryl Amedée, a Republican from Houma who drafted one of the anti-abortion bills passed by the legislature this year, said she would consider legislation similar to SB 8.
“If the question is, would I support, or maybe even propose such a bill in Louisiana?” Absolutely, ”she said.
Amedee said she believes a majority of her colleagues would likely approve a Texan-style law.
“Anything we can do to protect the right of the unborn child for life, we tend to support it,” she said.
But this type of law might not be necessary to severely restrict or even end legal access to abortion in Louisiana and large areas of the country.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi this fall, in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, who could see the court overthrow or gut Roe vs. Wade.
“We are optimistic about the outcome of the Dobbs case be astounding Roe vs. Wade, or by modifying Roe vs. Wade‘s previous, ”Clapper said.
Rep. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican from Slidell who has supported anti-abortion laws, said she wanted to assess the civil enforcement provision of SB 8 before considering a similar law in Louisiana, but she said she was “anxious” for the decision in the Dobbs cases and how that “will impact pro-life discussions in the future.”
If the court cancels Roe vs. WadeLouisiana has a trigger law that will go into effect and immediately ban all abortions unless the life of the pregnant person is in danger.
Even though judges only upheld Mississippi’s law in a narrow ruling, Louisiana also has a 15-week ban on books that would take effect immediately.
But Steven Aden, general counsel for Americans United for Life, said the court was expected to do much more.
“It’s pretty obvious to many of us that he wants to do something big in the area of abortion. And that’s why he took the case, ”he said.
Americans United for Life is among a number of conservative and anti-abortion groups that have filed briefs in the lawsuit, asking judges to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Another brief was signed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Landry’s office declined to say whether he would like to see Louisiana adopt its own version of SB 8.