Amid cheers and jeers from a packed gallery, members of the Louisiana Senate on Tuesday evening approved what has been called the strictest anti-abortion legislation in the nation.
The measure, if it becomes law, will allow abortions in Louisiana only when the life of a mother is endangered. Otherwise, anyone “terminating a pregnancy” could face a $100,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail.
The bill was passed by a 24-15 vote after nearly four hours of sometimes-rancorous debate in which legislators three times rejected amendments to allow abortions in cases of rape or incest.
The measure now goes back to the House for concurrence with amendments that the Senate added to clarify that abortion would be allowed to save the life of the mother.
The bill was introduced last month by Rep. Louis (Woody) Jenkins, who said: “Very clearly, human life begins at conception . . . . It is an established, proven, scientific fact.”
Jenkins, a conservative Democrat from Baton Rouge, said from the outset that he wanted to pass the strongest anti-abortion bill possible and hoped that it would end up going before the U.S. Supreme Court as a challenge to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Last year, the nation’s highest court ruled that some state regulation of abortion is permissible, a ruling that Jenkins said is the first step toward overturning Roe vs. Wade.
As part of his strategy, Jenkins and other anti-abortion leaders in the Legislature argued against the inclusion of any amendments that would grant exceptions to a statewide abortion ban in cases involving rape, incest or the life of the mother.
However, an exception was made to save the life of a mother.
Democratic Gov. Buddy Roemer said last week he would veto any bill not providing exceptions for rape and incest.
“The life of the mother is certainly as important as the life of the unborn, " Roemer said also, adding that Jenkins’ bill does not have the support of every anti-abortion activist in Louisiana because “they want the life of the mother to be protected.”
Roemer added: “A bill that treats rape and incest for what they are--unusual, extraordinary, violent, degrading--and gives the mother a choice there, I can live with that.”
Anti-abortion legislators believe they have enough votes in both houses of the Legislature to override. On June 14, the House of Representatives passed the bill 74 to 27. An override takes 70 votes in the 105-member House and 26 votes in the 39-member Senate--two votes more than the number that voted for the bill.
However, abortion rights advocates say that they can muster enough votes to sustain the veto.
Confusing the picture is what appears to be widespread anti-Roemer sentiment in the Legislature, where the governor has been accused of “dictatorial” methods.
Senate insiders believe that a vote to override a Roemer veto of the abortion bill might have less to do with abortions than with Roemer’s sinking political fortunes.