By Will Hall, Message Editor
BATON ROUGE (LBM) – By a vote of 79-23, Louisiana House members passed S.B. 184, which protects an unborn baby at the first heartbeat, usually detectable between 6-8 weeks of development.
The measure authored by Sen. John Milkovich (D-DeSoto), requires an ultrasound “prior to any abortion” in order to establish “whether or not a fetal heartbeat is present,” banning abortion if the unborn child’s pulse is detected.
However, an abortion is permitted to “prevent the death … or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother.
Likewise, if the unborn child is diagnosed with a medical condition that “is incompatible with sustaining life after birth,” an abortion is allowed.
Arguments were passionate on both sides of the debate.
Rep. Valerie Hodges (R-East Baton Rouge, Livingston), the primary House sponsor, led the effort to pass the “heartbeat bill,” arguing a heartbeat is the definitive sign of life.
“When a person’s heart stops beating, you know their life is ended,” Hodges said. “When you can hear a baby’s heartbeat it is proof that life is present.”
She also defended the bill against attempts to add an exception for rape and incest, arguing the unborn baby’s rights supplants the mother’s.
“I believe the right to life supersedes every other right we have,” she said.
But opponents were not swayed, arguing that without the exceptions young girls would be forced to carry a baby to birth.
“How dare you not allow a family to make a decision for that child who’s carrying a child,” Rep. Pat Smith (D-East Baton Rouge) charged.
Others resorted to personal insults, dubbing bill supporters “pro-birth” instead of pro-life, taking issue with their votes for the death penalty but against abortion.
“All you so-called Bible thumpers in here who supposedly preach the book you all just speak the words,” Rep. John Bagneris (D-Orleans) accused. “You don’t walk the walk.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Caddo), a member of the Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, pushed back.
“We don’t punish children in this country for the sins of their fathers,” he reasoned in making his case against adding exceptions for rape and incest.
He also brushed aside critics’ infusion of the death penalty issue into the debate.
“If you want choice, let [the mother] choose to execute the rapist. That’s fine,” he said.
The Senate passed the bill 31-5 on May 6, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat governor in the Deep South, signed S.B. 184 into law on May 30.
“I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me — and I respect their opinions,” Edwards said in a statement after the bill’s passage. He also called on “the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone.”
The bill is provisional, having a “trigger” statement that puts it in effect upon a final decision by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding a similar “heartbeat bill” passed this year by the Mississippi legislature.
All 16 Louisiana Baptist representatives supported the bill: Mark Abraham (Trinity, Lake Charles), Roy Daryl Adams (First Jackson), Raymond Crews (First Bossier City), Julie Emerson (First Lafayette), Dorothy Sue Hill (Cherry Grove, Dry Creek), Frank Hoffman (First West Monroe), Dodie Horton (Fillmore, Haughton), Frank Howard (Oak Grove, Hornbeck), Mike Johnson (First Pineville), Sherman Mack (Bethlehem, Albany), Jack McFarland (Carney Lake, Chatham), Wayne McMahen (Central, Minden/Springhill), J. Rogers Pope (First Denham Springs), Steve Pylant (First Crowville, Winnsboro), Alan Seabaugh (Broadmoor, Shreveport) and Malinda White (First Bogalusa).
Four Louisiana Baptist senators voted for S.B. 184: Jim Fannin (Ebenezer, Jonesboro), Ryan Gatti (Cypress, Benton), Gerald Long (First Natchitoches) and Beth Mizell (First Franklinton). Wesley Bishop (Franklin Avenue, New Orleans) voted against the bill. Absent for the vote: Jay Luneau (Calvary, Alexandria) and Gary Smith (First Norco).