Louisiana Bans Late-Term Abortions

Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed legislation Friday that penalizes doctors who perform a late-term abortion procedure, making Louisiana the first to outlaw the surgery since a similar federal ban was upheld this year.

The new law allows the procedure only when the mother's life would be endangered without it. It would be a crime in all other cases, including when the pregnancy is expected to cause health problems for the mother.

The statute mirrors a federal ban that President Bush signed into law in 2003 and upheld in April by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawmakers in other states are expected to consider similar bans. Louisiana is the first to enact one, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion-rights group.

Under the Louisiana legislation, doctors face fines of between $1,000 and $10,000, and jail terms of between one and 10 years.

The procedure is the subject of angry debate between anti-abortion groups, who support state bans, and abortion-rights groups, who opposed the federal ban and have fought state bans.

Planned Parenthood officials argued against the Louisiana ban in legislative committee hearings, but received a chilly response from lawmakers. Only a handful of legislators voted against the bill.

Anti-abortion activists call the procedure "partial-birth abortion"; surgeons and abortion rights activists call it "dilation and extraction." It involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman's uterus, then puncturing or crushing the skull.

The Democratic governor on Monday signed legislation requiring that all women seeking an abortion be notified that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks gestation, and doctors who perform the procedure to discuss the availability of painkillers for fetuses.

Supporters said that legislation would provide important information to women seeking abortions — and that it could help stop abortions. Opponents say doctors don't agree on whether fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.

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