A quickly passed bill calling for a fine of $100,000 and up to 10 years in jail for anyone performing an illegal abortion in Louisiana may be in violation of the state Constitution, Gov. Buddy Roemer said here Monday as he pondered whether to approve it.
Roemer vetoed an earlier bill that would have prohibited all abortions in Louisiana, except to save the life of a pregnant woman, and anti-abortion lawmakers abandoned efforts to override the veto in the waning hours of the legislative session Sunday night.
Instead, they used an unusual technique to push through a bill that would also allow abortions in cases of rape and incest. Roemer vetoed the original bill because it did not include those exceptions to the law.
Because of the lack of time to complete the process of introducing new legislation, the revised abortion bill was presented as an amendment to a flag-burning bill, after the latter bill was stripped of its original language.
The new bill was passed by the Senate on a 32-7 vote, and by the House one hour later, 83 to 22, but Roemer said that, even though he was encouraged by the inclusion of the rape and incest exceptions, he still had doubts.
"There are several constitutional questions," Roemer said. "And one has to do with the issue of germaneness . . . . The Louisiana Constitution states quite clearly the standard of germaneness regarding amendments," meaning that an amendment must bear some relationship to the purpose of the original bill.
Under state law, Roemer must exercise one of three options in the next 20 days: He can sign the bill, he can let it become law without his signature or he can veto it. If he vetoes the bill, the Legislature could attempt to override either through a special session or a mail ballot.
It was in the final hours of the legislative session when Sen. John Saunders, a Democrat, substituted the anti-abortion language for the original provisions of a bill that would have reduced the simple battery penalty for anyone beating up a flag-burner to $25.
"It's absolutely crazy," said Rep. Sherman Copelin, a Democrat. "One has nothing to do with the other. It's not constitutional in its subject matter but also particularly in the way it was enacted in the Legislature."
Leslie Kirwin, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Committee for Reproductive Freedom, called the bill "a sham" and said, "It is so flawed legally it could never be the basis of a legal challenge to Roe vs. Wade (the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion)."
Democratic Rep. Buster Guzzardo said he voted for the anti-abortion bill "because at least we'd have something at the end of the session that we can take to the courts. This is the exact kind of bill that the governor has always said he would sign . . . ."
Roemer said that, because the bill was drawn up and acted on so quickly, legislators were unsure of what they had passed. "I got calls in the early morning hours from members of the Legislature who had different versions of what was in the bill they just voted for," Roemer said.
Roemer said in criticizing anti-abortion lawmakers: "This is the same group who, when they left the House of Representatives 40 days ago, said the bill protected the life of the mother. It did not do that. And now they're saying that it makes accommodations for the horrible crimes of rape and incest. We reserve the right to look at the bill."
Rep. Louis (Woody) Jenkins, a Democrat and the principal author of the earlier anti-abortion bill, said he had doubts about the validity of the new one: "It's not as strong as the other bill, and it's going to be immediately challenged in court. We would have been in better shape with a stronger bill."
LOUISIANA'S ABORTION BILL
Here are key elements of an abortion bill passed by the Louisiana Legislature and sent to Gov. Buddy Roemer, who must decide whether to permit it to become law: Bans abortions except to end pregnancies that endanger a woman's life or that were caused by rape or incest.
Punishes doctors who perform an illegal abortion with up to 10 years at hard labor and a fine of up to $100,000.
Does not punish women who get illegal abortions.
In cases of rape, allows abortion in the first three months of pregnancy only, provided the victim sought care from a doctor and reported the attack to law enforcement authorities within seven days of the offense.
In cases of incest, allows abortion in the first three months of pregnancy only.
Source: Associated Press