CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
The Lone Star State, which now contains a 400-mile swath without a single abortion provider, has become somewhat of a symbol for what happens when harsh state laws force reproductive health clinics out of business. But Texas is hardly the only state that’s successfully advancing this type of anti-choice agenda. In Louisiana, for instance, lawmakers have been quietly laying the groundwork to shutter clinics for the past several months — and they’re currently poised to accomplish that goal.
The latest installment of this saga involves Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who is currently pushing for a state investigation into Baton Rogue’s only abortion clinic, alleging that it violated federal privacy laws. On Tuesday, Vitter sent a letter to the state’s health department along these lines. Even though the letter doesn’t contain any specific allegations, it asks the department to “impose serious consequences” on the clinic if the accusations are proven true.
Reproductive rights advocates are questioning the timing of Vitter’s concerns. On Wednesday, state lawmakers are scheduled to hear House Bill 388, a measure that’s directly modeled after the new abortion restrictions in Texas. Vitter’s letter, which was released just one day before the final vote, may be intended to influence state lawmakers by reinforcing the myth that reproductive health facilities need tighter regulations.
“It seems like very suspicious timing that David Vitter would release information about an investigation the day before the House hears the bill for final passage,” Ellie Schilling, the lawyer who represents Louisiana’s abortion clinics, told the Times-Picayune. “I’m not really sure why David Vitter is involving himself in this.”
HB 388 would require the abortion providers in the state to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital, a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible for clinics to comply with. It will likely force the majority of Louisiana’s five clinics to close.
This type of legislation is known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. It’s an indirect method of restricting women’s access to abortion by making it too complicated and costly for clinics to remain operating. In reality, abortion clinics are already highly regulated and extremely safe. But conservatives’ rhetoric around “women’s health and safety” has helped advance TRAP laws across the country anyway.
And in Louisiana, abortion opponents have furthered this framework through several different means. At the beginning of this year, the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals attempted to regulate abortion clinics out of existence by imposing complicated and burdensome new rules on abortion providers with little public notice. Those rules were eventually rescinded after a massive outcry. But it’s not hard to see why HB 388, which essentially seeks to accomplish the same goal, has been able to advance so easily this session. The state is all too eager to follow in Texas’ footsteps.
In addition to the admitting privilege requirement, HB 388 includes several other problematic provisions that would limit women’s access to reproductive health care. It would impose a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for surgical abortion procedures. It would also limit the number of abortions that private doctors are allowed to perform before they’re officially considered to be an “abortion provider” — an obscure policy change that could actually have huge implications for women’s access to the procedure, as the number of clinics dwindles and women increasingly turn to private physicians for first-trimester abortions.
Ultimately, these type of restrictions on the medical procedure end up having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable women, who already struggle to afford the cost of an abortion. Even though Roe v. Wade is still technically the law of the land, an increasing number of harsh state laws ensure that women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights depend mainly on her bank account and her zip code.
“The New Orleans Abortion Fund is outraged by this bill, which will push women and their families further into poverty,” Amy Irving, a founding board member of the organization, which provides financial assistance to low-income individuals who need to end a pregnancy, told ThinkProgress. “Louisiana lawmakers continue to pass laws that erode our communities’ social safety net and demonstrate that they do not trust women to make decisions about their healthcare and abortion, in particular. This bill will penalize low income women, especially.”
In a previous interview with ThinkProgress, Irving said she’s noticed an uptick in the number of New Orleans women resorting to potentially dangerous methods of ending a pregnancy, like buying abortion-inducing drugs on the black market, as they lose access to legal clinics. That dynamic is already unfolding in Texas in the aftermath of its recent clinic closures, and there’s no reason to think the trend won’t continue in Louisiana if the state passes a similar law.
If Louisiana lawmakers approve HB 388, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is expected to immediately sign it into law. When it was first introduced, the governor’s office released a statement praising the legislation, saying “these reforms will build upon the work Governor Jindal has done to make Louisiana the most pro-life state in the nation.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the House passed HB 388. The legislation now goes to Jindal’s desk for approval. The Center for Reproductive Rights is urging opponents of the bill to sign a letter to the governor imploring him to veto it. “HB 388 is a direct threat to women’s health and safety. It could close safe and reputable abortion providers, and you don’t improve women’s health and safety by denying them access to abortion,” the letter states.