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Louisiana lawmakers pass controversial 'heartbeat' abortion ban

Restrictions passed by a number of US States recently are expected to be blocked in lower courts and eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.

The new abortion restrictions sparked widespread protests by activists last week.
The new abortion restrictions sparked widespread protests by activists last week.
Image: Melinda Deslatte/AP

LOUSIANA LAWMAKERS HAVE passed a bill banning abortions once a foetal heartbeat is detected, joining a string of other US states restricting the termination of pregnancies as early as six weeks.

The bans are expected to be blocked in lower courts, but supporters plan to appeal such decisions until they reach the Supreme Court.

They hope this will lead to the long-sought conservative goal of overturning the landmark 1973 ruling known as Roe v Wade, which recognised women’s right to abortion.

The measure – which includes exceptions for cases in which a woman’s life is at risk or the foetus has a fatal condition – passed the Louisiana House of Representatives with a vote of 79-23 after being approved in the Senate by 31-5, according to the legislature’s website.

It now goes to the desk of the governor John Edwards, who said he plans to endorse it.

“As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone,” the governor said in a statement posted on Twitter.

These ‘heartbeat bills’ ban an abortion once a heartbeat is detected in a foetus.

 The heartbeat can begin in what is known as the ‘foetal pole’ as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.

As pregnancies are dated from the first day of the pregnant person’s last period, being six weeks pregnant means around two weeks after a missed period.

This could mean the person may not realise they are pregnant, as they are not very far along in the pregnancy. Those opposed to the bill say this does not give pregnant women enough time to choose whether they want an abortion and access it before a heartbeat can be detected.

‘Lives at risk’ 

Planned Parenthood, which offers abortion services, said Louisiana “is part of an alarming and widely-opposed national trend of bans criminalizing abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant, threatening women with investigation, and promising to throw doctors in prison for doing their jobs.”

“Banning abortion will not stop abortion – but it will end access to safe, legal abortion care,” said Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

“These politicians in 2019 are deliberately putting women’s lives at risk. This is not about medicine or science, but power over women’s bodies.”

Several other conservative southern US states have passed similar measures in recent weeks, including Alabama, whose anti-abortion law is the strictest in the country. It amounts to a near-total ban on ending a pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest.

Performing an abortion would be a crime that could land doctors in prison for ten to 99 years.

Like the Louisiana measure, the Alabama bill includes exceptions if the life of the mother is in danger or the foetus has a fatal condition.

Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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The new abortion restrictions sparked widespread protests by activists last week, with demonstrators turning out in cities including Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Georgia.

Conservatives are ultimately counting on support at the highest court in the land.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has appointed two conservative justices – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – leaving liberal members of the court outnumbered five to four.

Conservative-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts is seen as the potential swing vote if the constitutionality of abortion eventually comes before the court.

Around two thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal, a Pew Center poll found last year.

- © AFP 2019.

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