BATON ROUGE – A bill that would have added exceptions to Louisiana’s abortion ban for cases of rape and incest was rejected Wednesday by the House Criminal Justice Committee.
After hours of emotional testimony on both sides of the issue, lawmakers shot down the measure in a 10-5 vote, marking another blow to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative agenda.
Pro-choice witnesses said that the current abortion ban would force young girls who are victims of rape to carry potentially dangerous pregnancies to term. They emphasized the possible negative mental health effects of being forced to carry a rapists’ child.
Several of the witnesses, including Boyd, shared their own experiences with rape. Boyd said her mother became pregnant with her at 15 years old as the result of a rape. She said her mother struggled for years before dying at age 28.
In hindsight, Boyd said she understands the depth of her mother’s struggles and could not imagine forcing a young girl to go through the same thing.
“No one looked out for my mother,” Boyd said. “No one looked out for me when I was born.”
Boyd acknowledged the deeply personal, emotionally charged decision to keep a pregnancy. But she said it is not her right to make the decision for other people.
Morgan Lamandre, chief executive and president of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, a victims’ advocacy group, suggested Louisiana’s strict abortion ban has created an instinct in women to travel to another state for an abortion instead of taking time to weigh the decision and potentially choosing to carry the pregnancy to term.
Anti-abortion witnesses often struck a religious tone and argued that abortions are not a way to heal from the trauma of a rape. Some said abortions are a violation of a woman’s body and referred to abortion as a “second rape.”
Anti-abortion activist Debbie Melvin equated abortion to the death penalty and said it cannot bring healing to survivors of rape. She said a baby conceived from rape, however, could bring healing.
“A baby is the only beautiful thing that can come out of a rape,” Melvin said.
Pro-choice activists, however, argued that the trauma of an abortion is not greater than the trauma from an unwanted pregnancy and birth.
State Rep. Alonzo Knox, D-Orleans, repeatedly urged the committee members to consider how they would feel if their young daughter was raped by a “big monster” and became pregnant.
“In that case, we have to have some kind of leniency,” Knox said.
“I would give any compromise on any bill that comes before this body in favor of this exception,” he added.
Republican committee members were mostly silent during the debate, and all of them voted against the exceptions. The votes for the bill came from four Democrats and an independent.