BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana would add new regulations for abortion providers that critics says would shutter three of the state's five abortion clinics, under a proposal that received the unanimous backing Wednesday of the House health committee.
The bill by Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat from Monroe, would require doctors who perform abortions to have privileges to admit patients at a hospital within 30 miles. The restriction is similar to a law recently passed in Texas that is blamed for closing 19 abortion clinics there.
Jackson said the proposal would enact "common-sense safety standards" to protect women's health. She was supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal's health secretary, Kathy Kliebert.
Backers of the bill cited health risks with abortion that include hemorrhaging, perforation of the uterus and other complications.
"Why shouldn't women get the care that they need if an abortion has been botched or if something has gone wrong?" said Cindy Collins, founder of Louisiana Abortion Recovery Alliance, an anti-abortion organization.
Abortion-rights supporters said if lawmakers enact the new requirement, it would force the closure of all three abortion clinics in south Louisiana, leaving open only those in Shreveport and Bossier City in the northwest corner of the state.
Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans lawyer representing the state's abortion clinics, said the bill would add burdensome and medically-unnecessary requirements on abortion providers.
"The bill is clearly intended to intimidate and deter physicians from providing the service," she said.
Jackson and supporters of her legislation said the bill would hold abortion clinics to the same standards required of ambulatory surgical centers.
But opponents said the measure's restrictions would hold the clinics to a tougher benchmark, and they said abortion is a less complicated procedure than the type performed at an ambulatory surgical center. They said new rules that close clinics would drive women to unsafe abortion methods.
"Women have killed themselves trying to induce their own abortions by using coat hangers. Is that what you want?" said Carrie Wooten, with the left-leaning organization Louisiana Progress.
Jackson's bill also would force women who take the abortion pill to meet the same 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements as women who have surgical abortions. It wouldn't apply to emergency contraceptives, known as the "morning-after pill."
The House Health and Welfare Committee advanced the proposal Wednesday without objection. It heads next to the House floor for debate and is expected to win passage there in a Legislature that has repeatedly supported tougher rules for abortion providers.
Unlike in other states, the issue doesn't divide Republicans and Democrats. Democratic lawmakers on the House committee spoke in favor of the bill.
"This is not denying anyone anything. This is a safety issue," said Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches.
The proposal also would require a doctor who performs more than five abortions a year to meet the health and safety inspections required of abortion clinics. Current law sets that requirement at 60 abortions before those licensing standards kick in.