On Thursday, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a measure into law banning abortion in Louisiana once a "fetal heartbeat" is detected, which typically happens at around six weeks of pregnancy. The move makes Louisiana the fifth state in the nation to ban abortion at a stage when many women don't even know they are pregnant. However, the ban will only go into effect if a federal appeals court upholds a similar Mississippi law that was blocked last week.
The Louisiana House of Representatives voted Wednesday 79-23 to pass Senate Bill 184, which only includes exceptions for when the woman's health is in danger or the pregnancy is "medically futile." Legislators rejected an amendment that would have made exceptions for rape and incest cases before sending the measure to Edwards.
In a statement, Edwards justified breaking away from the Democratic party by saying he was elected as a "pro-life" governor in 2015. "I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me — and I respect their opinions," he said. "As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone."
SB 184 is part of a larger wave of anti-choice legislation that is being rapidly introduced by state lawmakers with the ultimate goal of overturning or undermining Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Since January, more than a dozen states have introduced "fetal heartbeat" (not truly a heartbeat, according to doctors) bans. In addition to Louisiana, four other states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio — have signed those bills into law. This month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a measure that bans abortion at any stage of gestation, except in cases in which the woman's life is in danger, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a measure into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Every single one of these early bans is unconstitutional due to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability. (Researchers say a fetus is not considered viable until around 22 weeks of pregnancy.)
"This extreme abortion ban is part of a concerted, nationwide effort to criminalize abortion," Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana's executive director, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "After years of attacks on abortion access, Louisiana politicians have now sunk to a new low with an extreme ban that would outlaw abortion before many women know they are pregnant. Senate Bill 184 is a plainly unconstitutional reminder of just how far Louisiana politicians are willing to go to interfere in these deeply personal medical decisions and force women to continue pregnancies against their will. We’re committed to making sure this brazen attack on the constitutional right to abortion access never takes effect."
Louisiana currently ranks #45 nationwide when it comes to healthcare, according to a U.S. News & World Report ranking published earlier this month. Abortions are currently banned in the state after 20 weeks of gestation, and women seeking to terminate their pregnancies must undergo a 24-hour waiting period before they can access the procedure.