Louisiana Opts Not to Clarify That Miscarriages, Ectopic Pregnancies Are Exempt from Abortion Ban

“There is nothing natural about leaving a doctor's office or a hospital with a dead or dying baby inside of you," one woman legislator pleaded at the hearing.

Louisiana Opts Not to Clarify That Miscarriages, Ectopic Pregnancies Are Exempt from Abortion Ban
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A week after rejecting exceptions for rape and incest, the Louisiana legislature’s criminal justice committee rejected two more bills on Tuesday that would clarify that abortion care is legal for miscarriages or nonviable pregnancies today.

Democrat Rep. Candace Newell and Republican Rep. Mary DuBuisson had both introduced legislation attempting to clarify what conditions doctors can still treat under the state’s strict abortion ban. Newell’s bill would have amended the definition of abortion to exclude ectopic pregnancies, so that surgery and treatment for them would be explicitly allowed in Louisiana. DuBouisson’s bill sought to clarify that medical procedures used to treat miscarriages wouldn’t be considered abortions under the ban. (Medically, the terms are often used interchangeably–for example, a spontaneous abortion or missed abortion is the same as a spontaneous miscarriage.)

New Orleans health director Jennifer Avegno testified about the confusion doctors have experienced when faced with pregnancy complications, which can be fatal if left untreated. “The answer doctors get is to call [their] hospital attorney. I don’t know of anything else that interferes with the patient-physician relationship like that,” said Avegno. She spoke to how quickly an ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus, can rupture a fallopian tube, leading to profound bleeding.

But Republican Rep. Dodie Horton said she has spoken with multiple doctors who don’t find the law confusing at all, actually adding that there’s “no question in their mind about what they can or cannot do.” Sure.

Rep. Tony Bacala (R) added that he thinks the law is clear that treatment for ectopic pregnancies is legal, to which Avegno pushed back. “If it was as clear as you’re saying, then my colleagues wouldn’t be confused and they wouldn’t be advocating for this,” she said, noting that doctors are wondering if they can continue practicing in the state, given these restrictions. One healthcare worker testified that there has been a drop in applications to residency programs since the ban went into effect last year.

Ultimately, the arguments for the bill proved ineffective for the GOP legislators on the committee, and Republican lawmakers “deferred” the bill, effectively blocking it from going to the House floor for a full vote. DuBuisson’s bill focusing on miscarriage failed similarly. She tried to stress that she, too, was a “pro-life” Republican, but that the health of pregnant people should not be a partisan issue. “I am and always have been pro-life, but that also means I cherish the lives of women with pregnancies that are deemed nonviable.”

“We are not protecting mothers,” said DuBuisson. “We are leaving them to hemorrhage and carry a dead child until they can die ‘naturally.’ There is nothing natural about leaving a doctor’s office or a hospital with a dead or dying baby inside of you.”

Bacala once again claimed that the abortion ban is already clear enough, to which Du Buisson retorted, “We wouldn’t be at this table if it was so clear.”

Louisiana Right to Life testified that the “abortion industry” is trying to “get its foot back into the door” with these bills.

“I just think, members, that it’s very interesting that the bar continues to move with the Louisiana Right to Life,” DuBuisson said in her closing statement. She said it was difficult for her to believe that legislators could hear the testimony of “women close to death because of having to carry a nonviable pregnancy” and not be moved.

But her fellow GOP legislators, of course, were not moved.

“Yet again, our state lawmakers have chosen to defy medicine, common sense, and the will of their constituents in favor of advancing their own extreme political agendas,” Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s Helen Frink said in a statement. “Even when directly confronted with the chaos and confusion wrought by our state’s total abortion ban, these lawmakers shamefully and repeatedly refuse to take action.”

Today’s bill deferments mean all legislation intended to soften Louisiana’s abortion ban will not make it to the House floor. There is one bill aimed at lessening the criminal penalties for doctors that is currently in limbo.

Louisiana Right to Life and the legislators following their lead have made clear that they feel that conceding that the current abortion ban is vague could jeopardize it in court, whereas potentially putting scores of pregnant people’s lives at risk is apparently a sacrifice they’re willing to make.

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