La. Lawmakers OK Abortion Procedure Ban

Kathleen Blanco, as Louisiana Governor, pauses at the end of her announcement that she will not seek re-election, Baton Rouge, photo, 3/20/2007
AP / file
The Louisiana Legislature approved a ban on an abortion procedure Tuesday, the first state to do so since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal ban earlier this year.

The House voted unanimously to approve a measure that would allow the procedure that anti-abortion activists call "partial birth" abortions only when failure to perform it would endanger the mother's life.

The procedure would be a crime in all other cases, including situations where the pregnancy is expected to cause health problems for the mother.

The measure goes to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who describes herself as anti-abortion but has not indicated whether she plans to sign the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Gary Beard, would create fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 and jail terms of one to 10 years for doctors who perform the surgery. The measure matches the federal ban that President Bush signed into law in 2003, upheld in April by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The procedure, generally used to end pregnancies in the second and third trimester, involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman's uterus, then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion. Opponents of the procedure call it partial-birth abortion.

The procedure is the subject of bitter debate between anti-abortion groups, who support state bans, and abortion rights groups, who opposed the federal ban and have fought state bans, including Beard's legislation.

Planned Parenthood officials argued against the ban in committee hearings but received a chilly response from lawmakers. Only one legislator voted against the measure, in committee or on floor votes: Democratic Rep. Charlie DeWitt, who asked why only the doctor — not the mother — should be subject to prosecution.

Other states are expected to consider similar bans. A proposed ban has been introduced in Michigan, but lawmakers have not acted on it.

Also winning final legislative approval was a bill that would require all women seeking an abortion to 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 the bill, by Republican Rep. A.G. Crowe, 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.

Blanco has not indicated whether she would sign the measure.