Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who supports abortion restrictions, signed Senate Bill 181 into law on Wednesday. The measure bans abortions at 15 weeks of gestation without exceptions for cases of rape and incest. Health providers could face up to two years in prison if they offer an abortion after that time frame, but women seeking the procedure wouldn't be criminally prosecuted.
A similar ban was enacted in Mississippi in March, before it was temporarily blocked by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves. Last month, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a major lawsuit against Mississippi, challenging dozens of anti-choice laws in the state on behalf of the state's only abortion provider, the Jackson Women's Health Center.
The Louisiana ban will only take effect if the federal court upholds Mississippi's law. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld women's right to choose an abortion before viability. (A fetus is not viable before 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to most researchers.) Since then, the courts have interpreted abortion bans before the 20-week mark to be unconstitutional.
Reproductive justice advocates say these 15-week-abortion bans represent a new trend in abortion restrictions.
"We're seeing this big push to limit abortion later in pregnancy, but also imposing a gestational time limit that becomes shorter and shorter over time," Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told Refinery29 at the time. "We've seen bills that are blatantly unconstitutional. So, the next move by abortion opponents is to come up with a ban that is later in pregnancy than six weeks, but earlier than 20 weeks."
Louisiana, which will continue to ban abortion at 20 weeks while the Mississippi case is decided, is one of the states with the most restrictive laws on abortion.
"Banning access to abortion at 15 weeks is a flat-out violation of Roe v. Wade and Louisiana knows it. So little faith does Louisiana have in the constitutionality of their abortion ban that it won’t go into effect unless they get an okay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. We are confident that will not happen," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of CRR, said in a statement provided to Refinery29 earlier this month.
"Louisiana already has five federal lawsuits filed against their relentless battle to deprive women of abortion access and it’s inviting another one," Northup added. "It’s time the state stopped wasting taxpayer money on defending blatantly unconstitutional laws and focused instead on improving health care for Louisiana women and families."
This story was originally published on May 17, 2018. It has since been updated.