La. already has Texas abortion limits

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The Texas Legislature drew throngs of protesters, a 12-hour filibuster and nationwide attention as Republicans there fought to pass strict new abortion regulations that could limit the ability for women in the state to seek the procedure.

Louisiana has many of the same restrictions on the books, but they passed with few significant fights in the Legislature and none of the massive protests. The state has added nearly any legal limit it can find on abortion – and several that courts have said weren’t legal.

As they have added new statutes, the bills passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support and with Louisiana lawmakers acknowledging that they hope to lower the number of abortions with each restriction.

Unlike in Texas, Louisiana’s debates don’t showcase a deep divide between Republicans and Democrats. A handful of Democrats oppose the abortion restrictions, but often far more of Louisiana’s Democrats vote to support the measures.

A few individuals show up to committee hearings to complain about the latest proposed abortion restrictions, but the bills don’t attract widespread outrage.

Louisiana is one of the nation’s most anti-abortion states. In case anyone should be unclear on where the Legislature stands, lawmakers placed language in statute to explain the state only allows abortion procedures because the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they are legal.

Five abortion clinics are currently licensed in the state, according to the Department of Health and Hospitals, down from nine outpatient abortion facilities in 2005. All are in metropolitan areas: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Metairie and Bossier City.

That means women in many regions of Louisiana have little access to the procedure.

That was the chief complaint about the new Texas law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday and expected to be challenged in court. Only five of the 42 abortion clinics in the nation’s second-largest state meet the new requirements, and opponents of the law say many clinics can’t afford to upgrade their facilities and could be forced to shut down.

The Texas law bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and mandates that all abortions take place in surgical centers.

Louisiana also bans abortion after 20 weeks, except in limited medical cases where the mother’s life is in danger, under a law approved last year.

The state also requires that doctors who perform abortions have either admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or a written transfer agreement with a doctor who has those privileges.

As for the surgical center requirement, Louisiana had that, too, under a law passed in 1999. But a federal judge threw that law out, ruling the state couldn’t apply the same standards to abortion clinics that are required of ambulatory surgical centers.

After the court ruling, the state created a separate list of safety and sanitary requirements for licensing outpatient abortion clinics.

This year, Louisiana lawmakers banned doctors from remotely administering the abortion pill via a video hookup. Anti-abortion groups criticize the procedure as unsafe, calling it “telemedicine abortion,” but abortion rights organizations say it gives access to women in areas where there aren’t abortion clinics.

The same bill also added new regulations for doctors who perform abortions, requiring them to have training in obstetrics and gynecology or family medicine. It also increased the fines available to the DHH for sanctioning abortion clinics for violations of regulations.

Last year, Louisiana legislators added new mandates to the ultrasound requirements for women seeking an abortion, requiring that the sonogram be done 24 hours before the procedure and that doctors offer women the ability to hear the fetal heartbeat.

State lawmakers are almost certain to offer new abortion restriction ideas in the 2014 legislative session, likely with far fewer angry objections than in their neighboring state.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte covers the Louisiana Capitol for The Associated Press.