by Leo Thuman
Louisiana’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 180, popularly known as the ‘Heartbeat Bill,’ in a roll-call vote on Thursday. Though it would have easily been possible for the Republican members alone to put the bill on the governor’s desk, almost half of the state’s House Democrats also voted in favor. With little hesitation, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who describes himself as a “conservative Democrat,” signed the bill. Edwards’ signature was expected, as the governor frequently rebuffs the dictates of his party on this issue.
The bill is a substantial improvement on previous law, which was broadly permissive of abortion. The new law compels providers to conduct ultrasound imaging on pregnant women before they can receive an elective abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, abortionists will be forbidden to end the child’s life. Fetal heartbeats can be detected in most pregnancies from 5 to 6 weeks of gestation, though there are situations where cardiac activity can be detected even earlier. The policy contained in this new law is similar to laws passed in eight other states, including Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
As expected, pro-abortion groups are infuriated by this development. One such organization which has been vociferous in its opposition is Planned Parenthood. The group is America’s largest abortion provider, having performed enough last year to populate a city nearly as big as New Orleans. Petrice Sams-Abiodun, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, characterized recent laws as “unprecedented and extreme attacks on abortion” and specifically in reference to Louisiana’s law, “dangerous to patient health and wellbeing.” While no action has yet been formally announced, it is clear that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast isn’t afraid of litigating to get its way, having done so in the recent past over licensing and other issues of much smaller consequence to their operations.
However, despite histrionic protests by abortion supporters, most Louisianians are in fact opposed to abortion. According to Pew Research’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 57 percent of those surveyed reported that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Unfortunately, the will of Louisiana’s citizens may not soon be done. Similar bills, most recently Mississippi’s, have been blocked by the courts, so it is possible this one will be halted as well. It is also interesting to note that some commentators believe this wave of pro-life laws is primarily intended to mount a comprehensive challenge to Roe, rather than to serve as permanent policy changes. But whether or not either aim is accomplished, the passage of the bill is still a positive step forward for the movement to protect life.