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Louisiana Governor Says He Plans To Sign Bill Restricting Most Abortions Into Law


Today Louisiana's governor became the latest to sign a strict abortion ban into law with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. This is part of a long-term strategy by abortion opponents to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark Roe versus Wade decision legalizing abortion.

NPR's Debbie Elliott is following this debate and joins us now. Hi. Debbie.


SHAPIRO: OK, so the Louisiana Legislature passed this bill yesterday. The governor signed it into law today. What does it do?

ELLIOTT: Well, it outlaws abortion once a heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound. Typically that can be as early as six weeks, in some cases before a woman would even know that she was pregnant. There are exceptions if a woman's life is threatened or if there's a serious and irreversible health risk, also if the pregnancy is diagnosed as medically futile. There are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Here's the bill's House sponsor, Republican State Representative Valarie Hodges.


VALARIE HODGES: While we have tremendous empathy - tremendous empathy - for women of whatever age, especially for children that have been the victims of rape or incest - and it is a heinous crime - but if anyone should be put to death, it should be the perpetrator of the crime, not the child, not the baby.

ELLIOTT: Republicans lead the Louisiana Legislature, but this bill picked up Democratic support as well. In fact, the Senate sponsor of the bill is a Democrat.

SHAPIRO: And so is the governor who signed the bill this afternoon. What has he said about his decision to sign the bill into law?

ELLIOTT: Well, his position is certainly a break with national Democrats. Edwards was not available for an interview, but in a statement, he described himself as pro-life. He also acknowledged that there are many people who feel just as strongly as he does on the abortion issue and disagree with me, he said. But I respect their opinions. One of the people that disagree with him is the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson. I spoke with her from Baton Rouge today, and she was very disappointed with the governor.

KAREN CARTER PETERSON: I respect his religious beliefs. I, in fact, share a lot of his religious beliefs. But while I'm in this capitol as I sit right now, a woman's health is sacred. A woman should have the right to decide with her husband, with her family what she does with her body.

ELLIOTT: The political reality in Louisiana is that Edwards, the lone Democratic governor in the Deep South, is up for re-election this year in a conservative, Republican-leaning state where the abortion issue resonates with voters.

SHAPIRO: OK, well this ban comes as a lot of states are passing new restrictions on abortion. And most of these laws are tied up in court challenges. Take a step back, and tell us about the broader strategy here.

ELLIOTT: Well, the broader strategy is to be in federal court on a path that anti-abortion activists hope will lead to the U.S. Supreme Court. They are emboldened by a conservative majority court now with two appointees from President Trump. And these laws are aimed at challenging Roe v. Wade. Louisiana's law uses the language unborn human being and defines that as from fertilization. The goal is to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and establish human rights for a developing embryo or fetus.

Now, similar abortion bans by other states both in the South and in the Midwest have been challenged as unconstitutional. In fact, Louisiana's law is directly tied to a similar one in Mississippi that has already been blocked by a federal judge. The Louisiana law is written so that it would not take effect unless the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Mississippi's law.

SHAPIRO: There have been calls for boycotts of some of these states. Are we already seeing fallout even before the courts weigh in on these laws?

ELLIOTT: Yes. After Alabama passed what was the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, the University of Alabama's biggest donor, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., called for a boycott of both the state of Alabama and the school. Now, the university attracts a majority of out-of-state students. It says it had nothing to do with the law and was already in a dispute with Culverhouse and may give him back a $21 million donation. That is a big investment to lose.

In Georgia, several media giants including Disney, Netflix and WarnerMedia have indicated that they're reconsidering doing business in Georgia because of that state's law that bans abortions once a heartbeat can be detected. So Louisiana - also a place where there is a significant amount of television and film production as well as the music industry there. So that state could face similar pressure.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott. Thanks, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.