A Louisiana senate committee hearing Tuesday on an abortion ban based on the sex of the fetus ended with a tense exchange between a committee member and the bill’s author.
HB 701, sponsored by Rep. Lenar Whitney (R-Houma), would prohibit physicians from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion if they know the pregnant person is seeking the abortion because of the sex of the fetus.
A motion to report the bill as favorable resulted in a 2-2 vote by committee members along partisan lines, preventing the bill from going to the full senate, where Republicans hold a dominant 26-13 majority.
During the hearing, a committee member asked Whitney if there was any evidence of sex-selective abortions taking place in Louisiana. “No documentation that says it presently goes on in Louisiana,” Whitney said.
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Son Ah Yun, deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), testified against the bill because she said it perpetuated negative stereotypes about Asian-American communities.
“America is not India. America is not China. And HB 701 is not the solution,” Yun said.
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said during his testimony in favor of the bill that for the “pro-life movement there is never an acceptable reason for an abortion,” but called the bill a “common sense measure” to prevent sex-selective abortions.
Lang Le, a member of the New Orleans Vietnamese community, testified in favor of the bill and said that many Asian nations have dealt with widespread sex-selection abortion. “Unfortunately some Asian-American groups have made their opposition to the bill known, but they do not speak for everyone within the Asian-American community,” Le said.
Ellie Schilling, an attorney who represents abortion providers and clinics, spoke in opposition to the bill and criticized the legal language she said would allow a broad range of people to file lawsuits under the law and be held liable under the law.
The bill prohibits any penalty from being imposed against the person seeking the abortion, but would allow the father or a grandparent of the aborted fetus to sue the physician or anyone who assisted in performing the procedure.
Schilling said that the lack of exception for rape and incest could potentially allow a rapist to file an injunction against the victimized pregnant person in order to prevent them from terminating the pregnancy.
”This provides a very drastic solution to a problem that does not exist,” Schilling said. “The intent of this bill seems clearly for the purpose of frightening physicians and to have a chilling effect on the practice of abortion care.”
Deanna Candler, a Louisiana State University law student and president of LSU Advocates for Life, testified in favor of the bill and said that there were false reports about the scope of the bill’s language.
“The allegation that this bill could apply to a receptionist is completely ludicrous,” Candler said. “It’s specifically limited to the person who performed the abortion.”
The bill’s language defines anyone who is involved in “scheduling or planning a time to perform an abortion on an individual” as “attempt to perform an abortion,” and could hold them civilly culpable. Damages for up to $10,000 could be sought from those who believe the abortion was based on the sex of the fetus.
Whitney, during her closing comments, said voting against the bill was akin to murder.
“If you’re willing to kill baby girls you should vote no, if not then this is an easy yes vote for you,” Whitney said. Those comments caused a heated rhetorical exchange between Whitney and committee member Sen. Karen Peterson (D-New Orleans).
Peterson took exception to the remarks, and asked Whitney if her vote against the bill made her a murderer. “Do you really mean that if I vote no, I’m for killing baby girls?” Peterson asked. “Do I look like a murderer?”
“I think that you would be voting not to protect the innocent life of a baby girl because of her sex,” Whitney responded.
Peterson called the usage of that kind of language “quite harmful.”
A representative from the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was at the hearing in support of the legislation, but did not testify before the committee.
Lawmakers in the house passed the legislation in a 84-2 vote. Republicans hold a 59-44 majority in the house.