Louisiana Senate OKs Bill for Signs to Stop Coerced Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 15, 2011   |   12:11PM   |   Baton Rouge, LA

The Louisiana state Senate approved a bill the state House already passed designed to prevent women from being pressured into having an abortion they may not otherwise want.

HB 586, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, a Republican from West Monroe, makes it so signs may be posted at abortion centers across the state advising women of alternatives to abortion and that they have the right to refuse an abortion. The bill makes it so the signs, which should measure no smaller than 16 inches by 20 inches, must be posted in the waiting area of abortion centers in Louisiana. The signs inform women that they can’t be forced to abort against their will, the father is liable for support, adoptive parents may pay costs of prenatal care and childbirth, and there are many public and private resources to help during and after pregnancy.

“This legislation enhances the current Louisiana women’s right-to-know law,” said Hoffman, according to an AP report.

The legislation also creates a Department of Health and Hospitals website and mobile/smartphone platform to deliver info about public and private pregnancy resources, free ultrasound, abortion health risks, the development of the unborn child, etc. In addition to being posted on the sign, the web address must be given by phone or email at the initial contact seeking an appointment.

The House voted for the bill unanimously and the Senate voted for it 30-5 but not before it removed a provision from the legislation that would strengthen conscience protections for medical professionals who don’t want to be involved in abortions. According to the Times-Picayune newspaper, the current law, adopted in 2009, says “Any person has the right not to participate in, and no person shall be required to participate in any health care service that violates his conscience to the extent that patient access to health care is not compromised.” The bill would have remove the access requirement.

Sen. David Heitmeier, a Democrat, sponsored the amendment  to remove the conscience provision and he told the newspaper the access clause was the compromise necessary to pass the conscience measure in the first place.

Now, House and Senate lawmakers must reconcile the two different versions of the bill. The House must either approve the Senate changes or lawmakers from both chambers must meet to craft a compromise they think both chambers can approve.

Meanwhile, Dorinda Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund, applauded lawmakers for voting for the signs against coerced abortions. She drafted the bill and calls them “Signs of Hope.”

“Unlike the signs required by several states that warn women in abortion clinics that they cannot be coerced, the BDF Signs of Hope model takes the proactive step of requiring outpatient abortion facilities to post 16 x 20 signs in their waiting areas and patient rooms informing women that they can’t be forced to abort against their will; the father owes child support even if he offered to pay for the abortion; adoptive parents may pay costs of prenatal care and childbirth; and there are many agencies to help women during and after the pregnancy,” she said.

“The bill was dubbed the ‘Signs of Hope’ Act in committee testimony by Cindy Collins, the director of a center that counsels post-abortive women, because the signs will bring the hope of alternatives to women who are often feeling hopeless in abortion clinics due to the failure of others to welcome her child,” Bordlee added.

Bordlee thanked the office of Governor Bobby Jindal for making Rep. Hoffmann’s bill part of their legislative package and for their active support and assistance throughout the legislative process.

Louisiana Health Secretary Bruce Greenstein testified in favor of H.B. 636 in both legislative committees.  His department will soon begin developing the required abortion alternatives website, whose address will be included on the signs, along with a mobile app that gives women information about health risks, fetal development, free ultrasound and medical services, and adoption information. The text on the signs is specified in the legislation, and requires a full color graphic design  by the Department of Health.

Greenstein said the agency would pay for the signs and distribute them because, as the Daily World reported him saying, “more educational information is better. Our goal is to protect the health and safety of all residents. This will help protect women in the state by assuring that they understand their rights.”

“No one can force a woman to have an abortion, not even a young woman’s parents,” he said.

Julie Mickelberry of Planned Parenthood opposed the bill against coerced abortions. Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat, told her, “I don’t see any objection to a sign. It’s just telling your rights.”

Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, a trade group of abortion businesses, told AP she opposes the bill and claimed it “is trying to dissuade women from choosing abortion, and that is not the state’s responsibility.”

The state health department indicates 8,867 abortions were reported in 2010.

ACTION: Contact lawmakers to support the bill at https://www.legis.state.la.us