Louisiana Women Won’t Be Charged with Murder Over Abortions as House Shelves Abortion Bill | Legislature

Lawmakers removed parts of a bill that could have sent women to prison for ending a pregnancy or taking the wrong birth control method, then struck down the anti-abortion measure without a vote.

The move was taken against the wishes of House Bill 813 sponsor Rep. Danny McCormick, but it fulfilled his desire to spark a debate about life from conception and the desire of many lawmakers to being unregistered voting against an anti-abortion measure — including legislation opposed by prominent anti-abortion groups, the Catholic Church and Governor John Bel Edwards.

“It provides the same protection,” McCormick said, describing it as giving an unborn baby the same rights as a born baby.

“The political winds are blowing and it will not be addressed today,” he added.

The House approved, by a vote of 65 to 26, an amendment that replaced the wording, almost entirely, with language taken from a Senate bill. Completely rewritten by the House, McCormick put the legislation back on the calendar, effectively removing it before the final vote on the measure.

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McCormick’s supporters in the gallery gave him a standing ovation. He left the podium with his fist raised and the supporters did the same.

Much of the talk across the halls over the past week has been little more since seven Republican men on the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice introduced HB813 for debate on Thursday.

The measure said that life, and legal protections, begin at the moment of conception. That definition prohibits abortions of any kind without exception and opens the possibility of imprisonment for women who interrupt their pregnancies, as well as the use of forms of birth control that prevent the ovum from implanting in the uterus.

Women’s exposure to the bill’s criminal sanctions drew national and international media attention.

Members of the overwhelmingly anti-abortion Legislature feared their vote against the bill would come back to haunt them as pro-abortion rights in campaign flyers and advertising next year when all 105 lawmakers have to run for re-election.

Supporters of the faith-based abolitionist movement, who backed HB813, packed Memorial Hall, loudly reminding representatives that they would remember how they voted. The crowd listened to sermons and sang “Amazing Grace” under an increased presence of state troopers and State Capitol security. Those who could find a seat on the spectator balcony did so, and dozens more milled outside the chamber.

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The needle was threaded by Shreveport Rep. Alan Seabaugh and Baton Rouge Rep. Rick Edmonds, two of the most conservative and ardent anti-abortion lawmakers in the Louisiana Legislature. Edmonds is a pastor, and Seabaugh was one of seven Criminal Justice members who last week took the McCormick legislation out of committee and brought it to the House floor for debate Thursday.

Seabaugh apologized for voting to promote the measure.

“Pro-life bills fly off this floor with little to no opposition,” Seabaugh said. “This bill criminalizes women.”

Edmonds said he had been criticized for taking the stance that despite believing life begins at conception, he also believes women are victims and should not face jail time.

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“That’s what the entire pro-life movement has been about for all these decades,” Edmonds said, adding that supporters of the McCormick bill have criticized it, sometimes in harsh terms. “They haven’t been friendly,” he said.

Amid uncertainty about how to proceed, the House broke up shortly after 3 p.m., with Democrats and Republicans meeting separately for more than an hour in the basement of the state Capitol.

At one point, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder spoke to the Democratic caucus.

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“As far as I’m concerned, we can wrap this up now,” Rep. Sam Jenkins of Shreveport, the Democratic leader, said as he returned to the House floor.

McCormick said he did not attend the Republican caucus. He didn’t want to face the scathing comments from him, he said.

Shortly before the debate began, the state capitol was evacuated when police found a suspicious package abandoned in Memorial Hall. During the brief outdoor respite, abolitionist members pressured representatives not to amend HB813.

Shortly after, people were allowed to return to the building, with Schexnayder calling the episode a false alarm.

In consultation with Schexnayder, anti-abortion lawmakers and allied organizations, Seabaugh introduced an amendment that replaced the language of HB813 with a nearly word-for-word replica of Senate Bill 342, which easily passed the Senate a couple of weeks ago.

That Senate legislation coordinates the language of the more than 100 state civil and criminal laws that oppose pregnancy termination but omits the parts that would make the procedure a criminal act for women and criminalize the use of certain contraceptive methods. Life begins at conception under the provisions of the Senate measure sponsored by Democratic Monroe Sen. Katrina Jackson, who was also behind the statewide vote in 2016 that put anti-abortion language in the state Constitution. But her bill also includes exclusions for saving the life of the mother or fetus or when the pregnancy occurs outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes.

Following Senate language, McCormick’s bill now does the same thing.

If the US Supreme Court follows through on a leaked draft ruling by overturning the 1973 Roe decision, the ruling would trigger a 2006 law that would ban abortions in Louisiana, close all three of the state’s clinics and require women who seek to terminate their pregnancies surgically who drive more than 600 miles to Illinois, North Carolina or New Mexico for paperwork.

Vote to amend HB813 (65): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Bourriaque, Butler, Carrier, Coussan, Crews, Deshotel, DeVillier, DuBuisson, Echols, Edmonds, Edmonston, Emerson, Farnum, Firment, Fontenot, Freiberg, Frieman, Garofalo, Geymann, Goudeau, Harris, Hilferty, Hodges, Horton, Huval, Illg, Ivey, M. Johnson, Kerner, Mack, Magee, Marino, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, Miguez, G. Miller, Mincey, Muscarello, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, R. Owen, Pressly, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Schlegel, Seabaugh, St. Blanc, Stagni, Stefanski, Tarver, Thomas, Thompson, Turner, Villio, Wheat, White, and Zeringue.

Vote against amending HB813 (26): Representatives Amedée, Boyd, Brass, Brown, Carpenter, R. Carter, W. Carter, Duplessis, Fisher, Freeman, Gaines, Hughes, Jefferson, Jenkins, Jordan, LaCombe, LaFleur, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Marcelle, McCormick, Newell , Phelps, Pierre and Willard.

Do not vote (14): Representatives Adams, Bryant, Cormier, Cox, Davis, Gadberry, Glover, Green, Hollis, T. Johnson, D. Miller, Moore, Selders, and Wright.

Tyler Bridges and Will Sentell contributed to this report

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