Senate panel advances anti-abortion bill

Advocate file photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Maria Coleman, 13, of Baton Rouge, holds her 'Stop Abortion Now' sign high during January''s  Louisiana Life March from the Old State Capitol to the State Capitol.
Advocate file photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- Maria Coleman, 13, of Baton Rouge, holds her 'Stop Abortion Now' sign high during January''s Louisiana Life March from the Old State Capitol to the State Capitol.

A state Senate panel advanced legislation Wednesday putting new restrictions on Louisiana abortion clinic operations, similar to those that led to Texas clinic shutdowns.

House Bill 388 would require physicians who perform abortions to have active admitting privileges at a hospital that provides obstetrical-gynecological services and is within 30 miles of the place where the abortion is performed.

The Health and Welfare Committee, without objection, approved the measure, which is backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, and shipped it to the Senate floor for debate. The bill has been sailing through the legislative process. There were only six “no” votes when the bill passed the Louisiana House.

The full Senate could take a vote as early as next week.

Louisiana is recognized as having the most anti-abortion laws of anywhere in the country.

The requirement has led to the shutdown of an estimated 20 abortion clinics in Texas, where arrangements have not been possible.

Abortion rights supporters said clinics in New Orleans, Metairie and Baton Rouge would be forced to close because of the new requirement.

Only those in Shreveport and Bossier City would be left.

Two committee members sought assurance that the admitting privileges requirement would stand a court challenge on the issue of whether it would unconstitutionally restrict a woman’s access to abortion.

“I just don’t want to get this thrown out because of some terminology,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-St. Martinville.

“We want to make sure the bar is not so high that it’s not attainable,” said state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans.

Proponents said they would review the language to make sure it was similar to that of the Texas law, which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upheld.

The admitting privileges requirement is needed to protect the health and safety of women going to clinics seeking abortions, bill sponsor state Rep. Katrina Jackson said.

“It’s an opportunity to protect the lives of women,” said Jackson, D-Monroe.

Dr. Damon Cudihy, of Lafayette, said admitting privileges at a nearby hospital provide the continuity of care women need when complications develop in abortions.

“What objection could there be to such common sense regulations?” asked Dr. Robert Marier, who has been executive director of the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners.

Opponents said there is no medical basis for changing current standards. They said the clinic physicians were being held to an unnecessary higher standard than physicians at ambulatory surgery centers where more complex procedures are done.

“This is a dangerous bill that threatens women’s access to health care. It does nothing to protect women’s health and safety,” said New Orleans lawyer Ellie Schilling. She said it would “severely limit access to safe and legal abortion services.”

If the legislation passes, abortion clinic administrator Sylvia Cochran said, “we will be in court....If they shut us down, where are they going to go?” She said in Texas, women are traveling across the border to Mexico.

HB388 also requires the pregnant woman be provided with telephone numbers of the physician or other health care personnel with 24-hour access to the woman’s medical records in the event abortion complications arise.

The facility would also have to disclose whether it requires its employees to reach sales quotas.

In addition, the bill would require the same voluntary and informed consent and physician reporting to the state health agency in cases of medically or drug-induced abortions.

The physician also would have to report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “a serious adverse event” that occurs during or after administration of a drug used to induce an abortion.

Before approving the measure, the committee rewrote the penalty provision — stripping out criminal but leaving financial sanctions — for violations.