The fight over abortion has drawn hard lines everywhere in the US — except perhaps in Louisiana. Last night, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a fetal-heartbeat threshold bill and sent it off to the governor, who has pledged to sign it. The twist in the Pelican State is that the bill was authored by a Democrat, and a Democrat will sign it into law today:
The Louisiana House on Wednesday passed in a 79-23 vote anti-abortion legislation that would effectively ban abortions in the state, echoing similar legislative efforts by other Republican-controlled legislatures in the South.
A bill by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, would outlaw the abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat, which usually occurs around six weeks and before many women are aware they are pregnant.
John Bel Edwards had earlier given his support for the bill. After the final passage of the legislation, the Democratic governor reiterated his intent to sign it into law, although he also called on the legislature to expand their view of “pro-life” legislation:
“In 2015, I ran for governor as a pro-life candidate after serving as a pro-life legislator for eight years. As governor, I have been true to my word and my beliefs on this issue. But it is also my sincere belief that being pro-life means more than just being pro-birth.
My first act as governor was to expand access to health care for working Louisianans. I have worked with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to expand investment in education and pass sweeping criminal justice reforms. For each of the last three years, my administration has set records for the number of children being adopted out of our foster care system. And despite fierce opposition, I’ve fought to ensure LGBT citizens are not discriminated against in the workplace, to raise the minimum wage, and to pay a woman the same as a man for doing the same job.
I know there are many who feel just as strongly as I do on abortion and disagree with me – and I respect their opinions. As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone.”
Edwards has a deep personal connection to the pro-life movement, even apart from his devout Catholic faith. He and his wife faced a wrenching decision when Donna Edwards was in the 20th week of a pregnancy, Heavy informs its readers today. Their unborn child had spina bifida, a condition with a large range of potential disabling outcomes. Despite being pressured to abort, the Edwardses chose to see the pregnancy through:
According to an interview Gov. Edwards had with CatholicPhilly.com in 2016, the doctor who discovered Samantha’s spina bifida at 20 weeks strongly tried to push for abortion. The doctor took Donna to a clinic that treated on children struggling with the condition.
“It was our belief that God has a purpose in everything and we would have this child,” he said. “I credit Donna, she is a very courageous person. Our daughter is now 24 years old…I cannot imagine what our life would be without her, and I tell this story with her permission.”
Samantha gave her permission to use the story in a 2016 campaign ad:
“I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first child when the doctor discovered that she had spina bifida and encouraged me to have an abortion,” Donna said. “I was devastated – but, John Bel never flinched. He said, ‘No, no; we’re going to love this baby no matter what.’ And, at that moment, I watched the boy I fell in love with become the man I’m still in love with today.”
That exceptional story explains why Edwards will sign the bill, but perhaps not why the state legislature passed it. The pro-life issue has more cultural reach in Louisiana than it does in most other states, where the issue comes down to brute politics. In Louisiana, pro-life Democrats are not an endangered species, which allows for more success in pushing back on the culture of death, in which abortion is only one part.
That cultural reach points the way for the pro-life cause’s future, and it serves as a reminder of Andrew Breibart’s famous observation that politics is downstream from culture. That may spell doom for this effort, though, as the Supreme Court operates in a much different culture than Louisiana’s — and has already signaled a disinclination to change it. It just shows the scale of the work yet to be done.