Louisiana House Supports Planned Parenthood Defunding Bill

BATON ROUGE (AP) — An effort to strip Medicaid financing from Planned Parenthood if the organization starts performing abortions at its New Orleans clinic won the backing Wednesday of the Louisiana House.

         Federal health officials have warned such efforts may violate the law, but that hasn't slowed support for the legislation, which is supported by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

         The House voted 85-7 for the measure by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe.

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         The bill, which moves next to the Senate for debate, would ban public funding in Louisiana for entities that perform abortions. Planned Parenthood has indicated it wants to offer abortions at its new clinic under construction in New Orleans.

         Louisiana already is tied up in litigation about a similar issue. A federal judge has blocked previous Louisiana efforts to cut off Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood clinics.

         Even though Medicaid dollars can't pay for abortions, supporters of Hoffmann's bill said they don't want tax dollars to flow to clinics that offer abortions.

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         "We are hopeful that they stop doing abortions or do not start doing abortions," Hoffmann said.

         Opponents said the ban would lessen needed health services for the poor.

         "I believe that we cannot set the precedent of stopping access to health care," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.

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         No one mentioned Planned Parenthood by name during the debate.

         Some lawmakers raised questions about the possibility of another lawsuit and questioned whether they had the authority to eliminate federal financing for an organization.

         Bill opponent Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, read passages from a letter sent by the federal Medicaid agency to states last week describing states as limited in taking actions to remove providers from their Medicaid programs.

         Replying to the letter, bill supporter Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, said the federal Medicaid agency "is not a court of law." He acknowledged "there's probably a good chance" the measure would be challenged in court "as many of our pro-life statutes are."

         Hoffmann's proposal contains exceptions for abortions performed for victims of rape or incest, for women whose lives are in danger or for pregnancies considered "medically futile."

         Passage of the Planned Parenthood defunding bill came hours after the Senate health committee voted 5-2 Wednesday to advance a Hoffmann proposal to triple the wait time for women seeking an abortion in Louisiana to 72 hours.

         Five other states have similar waiting periods, the longest in the country. That measure, already approved by the House, also is supported by the governor.

         A woman in Louisiana currently has to wait 24 hours from the time she consults with a doctor and gets a mandatory ultrasound to the moment she gets an abortion. Under Hoffmann's bill, that waiting period would grow by another two days.

         Hoffmann said the extension would give women more time to make a "life-changing decision."

         "It can certainly help depress later regret," he said.

         Opponents said if passed, the 72-hour wait likely would face a court challenge as creating an undue burden to a legal medical procedure. They said Louisiana, grappling with deep financial problems, can't afford another lawsuit over abortion restrictions.

         "I have a problem with government telling a woman what to do with her body, period," said Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, who voted against the bill.

         Senators stripped an exception from the bill for women who live 150 miles from the nearest abortion clinic.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

         For more information about House Bills 386 and 606 click here



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