BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Senate agreed Wednesday to require the state's abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, moving the Texas-style restrictions one step from final legislative passage.
Senators voted 34-3 for the bill by Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat from Monroe. The proposal returns to the House for approval of senators' changes, which were supported by Jackson and are expected to win support.
Abortion-rights groups say the restrictions would close three of Louisiana's five abortion clinics, but in the strongly conservative state, those objections don't sway many lawmakers. The protests and sharply divided debates of Texas haven't taken place during the Louisiana Legislature's discussion of the proposal, which has received bipartisan support.
Proponents say the measure would ensure women have access to proper care if they have complications because of an abortion, describing possible medical complications like hemorrhages, cervical injuries and infections.
Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who handled the bill in the Senate, successfully defeated an attempt by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to strip the 30-mile radius requirement.
"It is important that the surgical center is close to an emergency room," Broome said.
Opponents say the restrictions are medically unnecessary and designed to limit access to abortion. They say the legislation would shut down all abortion clinics south of Shreveport, creating the need for a five-hour drive each way for women who live in the southeastern end of the state.
"Clearly this is a deeply personal decision for a woman ... and it should be left to a woman and her family and her faith with the counsel of her doctor," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party.
In March, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar Texas law that has been blamed for closing one-third of that state's abortion clinics. The operators of Mississippi's only abortion clinic say the same type of law recently passed there would force its closure.
Abortion-rights groups say doctors who provide the procedure have difficulty getting hospital privileges, not because of their credentials but because hospitals are leery of the attention such privileges could draw.
The 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, however, apply to emergency contraceptives, known as the "morning-after pill."
In addition, the measure 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.