Louisiana’s Democratic governor signed a ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy Thursday, a move that puts him squarely in line with the leaders of other conservative Southern states while provoking anger from members of his own party.
With his signature, Gov. John Bel Edwards made Louisiana the fifth state to enact a law prohibiting abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, joining Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia. Alabama’s gone further, outlawing virtually all abortions .
Louisiana’s law doesn’t contain exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest.
The bill’s signing, however, won’t limit the state’s three abortion clinics anytime soon. Louisiana’s law takes effect only if the law in neighboring Mississippi, which was recently blocked by a judge , is upheld by a federal appeals court.
Edwards, a Catholic running for reelection this year, didn’t hold a public bill signing, instead announcing his action through his office. He had repeatedly said he intended to sign the measure, citing his faith and saying his views match those of people in his conservative, religious state, who he described as “overwhelmingly pro-life.”
Louisiana legislators overwhelmingly supported the ban , with a 79-23 House vote and 31-5 Senate vote.
Lawmakers in conservative states across the nation are striking at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally. Abortion opponents are pushing new restrictions on the procedure in hopes that a case will make its way to the high court and two new conservative justices appointed by President Donald Trump could help overturn Roe.
None of the abortion bans enacted this year has taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges that will delay any enforcement of the prohibitions against the procedure.
Opponents of the so-called heartbeat bills said they would effectively eliminate abortion as an option before many women realize they are pregnant and would violate constitutional privacy protections.
Louisiana’s law includes an exception from the abortion ban to prevent the pregnant woman’s death or “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” — or if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile.” But it does not include an exception for a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, drawing criticism that the law forces continued trauma on women who have been victimized.
Under the bill, a doctor who violates the prohibition could face a prison sentence of up to two years, along with medical license revocation.
The abortion-rights debates that divide state Capitols across the nation cause fewer ripples in the Louisiana Legislature. It is one of the country’s most staunchly anti-abortion states, with a law on the books that immediately outlaws abortion if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. State lawmakers annually enact new regulations seeking to curb access with bipartisan support.
Louisiana’s latest abortion ban won support from many Democrats and was sponsored by Democratic Sen. John Milkovich, from northwest Louisiana.
Although Edwards is rarity in the national Democratic Party, he’s consistently run as an anti-abortion candidate. When he ran for governor in 2015, his campaign had a prominent TV ad that showed his wife, Donna, describing being advised to have an abortion because of their daughter’s spinal birth defect. The Edwardses refused, and the ad showed a grown-up Samantha.
The bill signing from Edwards, who faces two Republicans on the ballot this fall, is expected to help shore up his position with some voters at home, even if it puts him at odds with national Democratic Party leaders and donors.
Still, the governor faced an outcry of anger on social media from Democrats who objected to his support for the abortion ban.
The chair of Louisiana’s Democratic Party, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, has been regularly slamming the bill. She’s posted opposition messages on Twitter, such as: “Roe vs. Wade should be respected not undermined! Right to privacy!” But she hasn’t directly criticized Edwards by name, and the party is supporting him for reelection.
He isn’t defying his party. Most Louisiana Democrats are anti-abortion, even though the Party Chair isn’t.