NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The sponsor of a bill that would have subjected Louisiana women to charges of murder for having abortions abruptly pulled the proposal from debate Thursday night after House members voted 65-26 to totally revamp the legislation, eliminating the criminal penalties.
The controversial bill would have ventured farther against abortion than lawmakers’ efforts in any other state. It would have made women who end their pregnancies subject to criminal homicide prosecutions.
“This is a thorny political question, but we all know that it is actually very simple. Abortion is murder,” McCormick, a Republican from Oil City, proclaimed as he opened debate. He noted that a majority of Louisiana lawmakers in the heavily Republican Legislature say they are anti-abortion, and briefly chided those abortion opponents who also oppose his bill. “We’re faltering and trying to explain it away.”
But McCormick’s measure had drawn increasingly strong opposition from many anti-abortion stalwarts. Gov. John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, said he would veto it. Louisiana Right to Life, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Right to Life Committee were among the prominent anti-abortion opponents of the measure.
Edwards, a devout Catholic, declared prosecuting women for abortion “absurd.”
McCormick had just as strongly disagreed, saying a woman who has an abortion should be in the same legal position as a woman who takes the life of a child after birth. “When I give equal protection to the unborn, that’s the possibility,” he said in a Wednesday evening phone interview.
Supporters of the bill were adamant. Scores of them gathered at the Capitol to pray and show support. Watching from the House balcony as the bill died, one shouted “Shame.”
The House had not yet started debating the controversial legislation when the building was temporarily evacuated Thursday after the speaker interrupted proceedings and said an unknown, unclaimed package had been found in the capitol’s Memorial Hall — a gathering area between House and Senate Chambers.
It came on a day when legislation was already moving slowly as lawmakers tried to find a compromise on McCormick’s bill. The House recessed for more than an hour while lawmakers broke into groups behind closed doors to discuss the legislation.
Pending at the time was a new amendment by Rep. Alan Seabaugh. The Shreveport Republican is an anti-abortion stalwart. But his amendment would completely revamp McCormick’s bill, eliminating the criminal penalties for women, allowing abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman and okaying the use of contraceptives.
McCormick’s bill had drawn intense scrutiny in light of last week’s leak of a draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion indicating the high court is preparing to overturn decisions upholding a constitutional right to abortion.
There was no indication yet that lawmakers in other states are taking up similar legislation. In Idaho, Republican state Rep. Heather Scott has proposed prosecuting women who get abortions, but a committee chairman said Friday he would not allow it. “There are still reasonable people in the Legislature who are going to ensure that extreme bills like that are not going to get a hearing,” Rep. Brent Crane said.
“In my committee, I’m not going to hear that bill that puts a woman on trial for murder. If you’ll take that portion of the bill out, if you’ll put the doctor on trial for murder ... then we can talk about having a hearing on your bill,” Crane said on Idaho Public Television.
McCormick introduced his bill in March in an attempt to end abortion regardless of what any court does.
In addition to rewriting homicide statutes to include abortion, it declared that any federal law, regulation or court ruling that allows abortion is void and that any judge who blocks enforcement of the bill’s provisions could be impeached.
Edwards called the bill “patently unconstitutional.”
He joined critics of the bill saying it criminalizes some types of contraception and parts of the in vitro fertilization process. McCormick on Thursday said forms of contraception that don’t destroy a fertilized egg would not be affected. And he disputed that the bill would newly criminalize some aspects of in vitro fertilization, pointing to state law that already grants rights to an “in vitro fertilized human ovum.”
Anti-abortion legislation usually passes easily in Louisiana’s Legislature but the emphatic opposition from some anti-abortion stalwarts could bolster attempts to derail the measure or heavily amend it.
Louisiana already has laws on the books criminalizing abortion, including a “trigger law” ensuring that it will be a crime if the Supreme Court reverses the Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing abortion rights. The statutes appear to exempt women from prosecution, although some abortion rights advocates have suggested they need tightening.
McCormick has said the existing laws are inadequate to give fetuses equal protection under law.
Associated Press writer Holly Ramer contributed to this report from Concord, New Hampshire.