In 1990, pro-life and pro-choice forces made it nearly impossible to navigate the state Capitol. Lawmakers who supported forms of abortion were cursed at and threatened by opponents, who in turn were dragged away by state police. A few pro-choice advocates managed to get press badges and make it onto the House floor. National news networks ran special reports about the abortion legislation's odyssey; former Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed the original bill, wanting to exempt victims of rape and incest, and crafty lawmakers reinserted the slightly accommodating language into an unrelated flag-burning bill.
Roemer vetoed the second version as well, but lawmakers didn't have the votes in the Senate to override the decision. The following year, however, lawmakers came back with the same legislation and were able to override Roemer's veto ' the only time that has happened in recent history.
"You're bringing up some bad memories for me," Roemer recalls. "But I vetoed that sucker because it was just so unconstitutional."
In the end, Louisiana adopted one of the strictest abortion laws in the United States. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists subsequently pulled their convention from New Orleans, but other ripple effects were halted when a federal court struck down Louisiana's original abortion ban in 1992.
Fast-forward 14 years, and there are at least four abortion-related bills filed in the latest session of the Louisiana Legislature that stretches into June. (There's even another flag-burning bill.) But for this go-round, the U.S. Supreme Court is more conservative, and many lawmakers ' including the Louisiana authors ' are pointing to anti-abortion bills as a way to carve up the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The first salvo was fired earlier this month by South Dakota lawmakers, who made it illegal in their state for doctors to perform abortions unless it threatens the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and violating doctors could face up to five years in prison.
Jim Sedlak, vice-president of the American Life League, one the nation's largest pro-life organizations, says all the stars have finally aligned for his group's cause, and the first successful bill in South Dakota is a "monumental step toward ending abortion in this country and protecting all innocent human beings ' born and preborn."
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the leading provider of U.S.-based abortion services, says Louisiana isn't alone in its follow-up to the South Dakota legislation ' at least 10 other states are prepared to debate similar bills. For each one that passes, Planned Parenthood is mobilizing action.
"In every state, women, their families and their doctors should be making private, personal health care decisions, not politicians," Richards says. "These abortion bans, and the politicians supporting them, are far outside the mainstream of America. Planned Parenthood will fight these attacks in court."
In Louisiana, Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat, has filed a bill to ban all abortions, except those that save a mother's life, and makes no exception for rape and incest. The crime of abortion would be punishable by one to 10 years in jail and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, according to the legislation. Rep. Tim Burns, a Mandeville Republican, has included similar penalties in his bill, but he does make an exception for incest and rape.
Rep. Carl Crane, a Baton Rouge Republican elected in 1982, doesn't want a repeat of the early-90s abortion coverage, which he says was blown out of proportion and sensationalized by the media.
"I hope the media doesn't preoccupy itself with this," Crane says. "I don't think it's going to be an important issue. It has been pretty well dissipated. And the whole issue of abortion then was mischaracterized. Everyone thought we were spending so much time on the issue, and that's all you heard about. But if you consider the amount of time spent in committee and in debate, it wasn't that much."
If any of these measures reaches the desk of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Catholic and a Democrat, it's clear what she might do. She stated many times during her run for governor that she thinks abortions should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest and to save a mother's life. She also favors a ban on "partial birth," or late-term, abortions.
A majority of Louisiana lawmakers, many of whom are devoutly religious in a somewhat conservative state, stand by the governor's opposition to outright abortions. That doesn't mean the debate will be docile and unified ' inside or outside the legislative chambers.
"You can go ahead and put the saddle on the horse, because I'm sure it will be a rough ride," says Rep. Warren Triche, a Chackbay Democrat who was serving his first term during the last abortion debate. "It will take a great deal of limelight out of the session."
Business organizations opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use material outside a classroom's adopted textbook has been rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
New York Times poll shows Obama, Jindal have identical approval and disapproval ratings in the state.
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.