Innovative Pro-Life Law Uses Phones, Computers to Help Women

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 14, 2011   |   6:35PM   |   Baton Rouge, LA

An innovative new law in Louisiana required abortion practitioners to post signs at abortion centers providing women information about abortion risks and alternatives — but one aspect of the law relies on new technology to help women.

Drafted by Bioethics Defense Fund, the groundbreaking “Signs of Hope” bill has been enacted for the first time in Louisiana with the signature of Governor Bobby Jindal, and is now in development at the Louisiana Department of Health. As reported, pro-life Governor Bobby Jindal signed the legislation into law recently, but the pro-life attorney who drafted the measure says there are innovative components that might go over well in other states.

Bioethics Defense Fund senior counsel Dorinda Bordlee drafted the unique legislation to require 16 x 20 Women’s Right to Know signs featuring a web address that converts to a mobile format when it is accessed by an iPhone or any mobile device.

“Women today get the majority of their information via mobile technology.  This Act is designed to supplement the booklets required by Women’s Right to Know laws so that women can use their mobile phones or laptops to view photos and videos of the unborn child, information about abortion risks and adoption services, and resources to obtain free ultrasound and prenatal care,” said Bordlee.

In addition to being listed on the signs, the law requires the URL to be posted on the home page of abortion clinic websites and must be given to anyone scheduling an appointment for an abortion.

While several states require signs to warn women in abortion clinics that they cannot be coerced, the BDF Signs of Hope Act provides additional information to help women choose life.  The signs, which must be posted in abortion clinic waiting areas and patient rooms, inform women about basic rights and resources (link to prototype sign at bottom).

The exact text on the signs is specified in the BDF drafted legislation, and requires a full color design by the Department of Health.  Because the bill was part of the Governor’s legislative package, Louisiana Health Secretary Bruce Greenstein testified in favor of H.B. 636 in both legislative committees.  His department is now designing the signs and abortion alternatives website, which is required to be published by November 6, 2011.

Bioethics Defense Fund commended the author of La. HB 636, Rep. Frank Hoffmann (R-Monroe), and the Louisiana Right to Life Federation who promoted the bill as their flagship legislation.

According to BDF senior counsel Dorinda Bordlee, 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, who said the signs in abortion clinics would be “signs of hope” to women who often feel hopeless and coerced due to a perceived lack of alternatives.”

Planned Parenthood of Louisiana opposed the bill, claiming that the signs were “offensive.”  In response to perplexed questions by committee members who asked how  information about rights and resources could be considered offensive, the Planned Parenthood representative said that women already know this information and it is therefore condescending. The Planned Parenthood representative had a difficult time distinguishing information required on cigarette cartons and informed consent requirements for other elective procedures.  Both the Louisiana House and Senate disagreed, approving the bill by overwhelming margins.

Nikolas T. Nikas, BDF president and general counsel, said, “We encourage state legislators and policy leaders to contact our legislative department to get a copy of the model bill and complementary legal support.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states have a strong interest in promoting childbirth over abortion, and the Signs of Hope Act uses modern technology to do just that.”

Bioethics Defense Fund reports that at least 25 states have “Women’s Right to Know” laws requiring informed consent information and reflection periods.  Nikas said each of those states should consider amending in the “Signs of Hope” requirements.