By Allison Allsop
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–A House committee killed two bills Tuesday (May 16) that were meant to clarify the language of abortion laws to protect physicians making difficult choices.
House Bill 598, written by Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans, was blocked in the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice in a 7-5 vote. The committee rejected a similar measure, House Bill 461, by Rep. Mary DuBuisson, R-Slidell, in an 8-5 vote.
All the votes to kill both bills came from Republicans. Four Democrats and the committee’s chairman, Rep. Joseph Marino III, a political independent from Gretna, supported both bills.
Neither of these bills would have allowed for abortions of viable fetuses.
Supporters of the bills said doctors have been leaving the state after last year’s total abortion ban was signed into law. They said doctors are confused about what actions they can and cannot take about their patient’s health.
Newell brought her bill to protect doctors from prosecution when using their best judgment in deciding the right care for patients.
In addition to broadening the language for what was not considered an abortion, the bill also would have created specific exceptions for molar and ectopic pregnancies, which are non-viable.
There was a lot of debate about whether the bill was necessary or not.
Multiple physicians stated that many of their colleagues are afraid of being prosecuted. The physicians also said that under current law, doctors feel they must wait until life is threatened to act instead of upon diagnosis of a non-viable pregnancy.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno, an emergency room physician and director of the New Orleans Health Department, provided testimony on her experiences and her colleagues’ concerns.
“I don’t know of any other condition that we treat as physicians where we have to worry about some sort of legal ambiguity to do the right thing or just to have a conversation with our patients,” Avegno said.
Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, said she has not heard from anyone in her district near Shreveport having trouble with understanding the law.
Proponents said DuBuisson’s bill also would have provided clarity to medical professionals and allowed them to act more effectively in treating emergency diagnoses.
Opponents of the bill contended that it would have created loopholes for elective abortions to occur.
Witnesses said physicians are leaving Louisiana due to the strict laws.
Dr. Nicole Freehill, an obstetrician and gynecologist in New Orleans, said: “I think it’s important to point out that the number of applicants to OBGYN residencies decreased significantly in this past year.”
A study by the Association of American Medical Colleges found that states with abortion bans faced a 10.5 percent decrease in applications to medical residency programs.
DuBuisson said, “We wouldn’t be at this table dealing with this difficult issue if it was so clear.”