By Drew White
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE --The termination of pregnancy by illegal interference and feticide may soon become "crimes of violence" under Louisiana state law.
A House panel approved a bill 8-4 on Tuesday to prohibit the use of physical force or threats of violence against "the person or property" of a pregnant woman with the intent to compel her to undergo an abortion against her will.
"A former abortion clinic security guard testified before our legislature that the greatest threat to women at abortion clinics were the men that accompanied them," said Alex Seghers of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.
Under proposed law, an individual could face up to five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine for coercing an abortion. By approving the bill, the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee sent it to the House floor.
Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, argued that if a person threatens to do someone bodily harm, there are already laws that cover it.
"How do you define and how do you prove that a person threatened someone to do bodily harm because they were pregnant?" asked Marcelle.
"If someone tells me they are going to kill me, that's a crime already," she added.
Under the bill, coercion is not simply a verbal effort to persuade a woman to abort. The coercion would have to be threats of violence.
"The pressure can escalate for those that continue to resist and may place a woman at a higher risk of being attacked," Seghers said. "Even if they choose to abort, that resistance and intense pressure causes even more intense trauma for them, leading to a higher risk of suicide."
Committee members on Tuesday also debated the term "property" in the bill.
Rep. John Stefanski - R-Crowley, speaking on behalf of author of the bill, Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport - said he believed property meant someone bashing out the windows of a pregnant woman's car as a threat.
"If we don't define what property means…if a person owns a pen and you threaten to break the pen in half, that's a felony?" questioned Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna.
Members from Louisiana Family Forum, Louisiana Right to Life, and Baton Rouge Right to LIfe were there to support the bill.
Voting against it were Marino and three Democrats, Rep. Royce Duplessis of New Orleans and Reps. Ted James and Denise Marcelle of Baton Rouge.
Milkovich has filed a number of anti-abortion bills and stated that his goal is to outlaw abortion in Louisiana.
One of his bills that would grant the Louisiana Department of Health authority to suspend or revoke the license of an outpatient abortion facility for falsifying or destroying patient files was passed unanimously by the House Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday.
Another Milkovich bill that awaits House consideration would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It would be one of the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion laws, and anyone who performs such an abortion would face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Current Louisiana laws prohibit abortion after 20 weeks. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat known for his pro-life stance, has said he would be inclined to sign a bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy should it continue to advance through the Legislature.
Traditionally pro-life groups like the Louisiana Right to Life and the Louisiana Family Forum were initially wary of the 15-week measure, raising concerns that the bill would unintentionally roll back restrictions in place. The groups supported the bill after the Senate made amendments while passing it.
A similar bill was signed into law in Mississippi in March, but that bill awaits implementation because of a court injunction. Milkovich's bill includes language, largely out of concern over legal costs, that makes it only enforceable if Mississippi's law is upheld.
The Mississippi measure faces legal opposition based on the 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade granting a woman's constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
Both the Louisiana House and Senate have passed a bill this session to encourage women considering abortions to place their babies up for adoption.
The proposal, by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, would require a state-issued pamphlet providing information about adoption to be given to a woman before she could have an abortion. The bill now awaits House approval of technical changes.