Louisiana lawmakers pass 'heartbeat' abortion bill as legal battles rage in multiple states

PHOTO: A street view outside the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region, Missouris sole abortion clinic, in St. Louis, May 28, 2019.PlayLawrence Bryant/Reuters
WATCH Restrictive 'heartbeat' bill passes in Louisiana

The ongoing legal battles over abortion access are forging on in multiple states Wednesday.

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The Louisiana House passed one of the country's most restrictive abortion laws on Wednesday evening, limiting abortions performed on women once a fetal heartbeat is detected, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, said in a statement after the bill was passed that he is preparing to sign the legislation.

But the bill will be put on hold, pending legal challenges to a similar bill in Mississippi.

Shortly after the bill was passed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana responded by tweeting, "We’re committed to making sure this brazen attack on the constitutional right to abortion access never takes effect."

Planned Parenthood called Louisiana's bill "part of an alarming and widely-opposed national trend of bans criminalizing abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant, threatening women with investigation, and promising to throw doctors in prison for doing their jobs."

Another one of the most-watched facets of the nationwide abortion debate is unfolding in Missouri, where a court hearing about the possible closure of the state's sole abortion clinic was postponed until Thursday.

The delay was announced shortly after the state's governor slammed the practices at that Planned Parenthood clinic.

Gov. Mike Parson detailed how the state's department of health has reportedly issued warnings of "deficiencies of care" over the past two months.

Parson said the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) launched an investigation into alleged problems with the St. Louis clinic and said the renewal of the clinic's license "centered around two key issues: Planned Parenthood not following the law and Planned Parenthood not protecting women's health."

Parsons listed three issues about the alleged incidents of concern, saying investigators found "significant medical evidence of at least three failed surgical abortions," which he said included patients returning to Planned Parenthood after realizing they were still pregnant.

Another issue he raised was that "on numerous occasions" their doctors allegedly ignored the state law that requires the physician who signs a patient's consent form be the same doctor who performs the abortion procedure 72 hours later.

PHOTO:Abortion rights activists rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. Demonstrations were planned across the US on Tuesday in defense of abortion rights, which activists see as increasingly under attack. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO:Abortion rights activists rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. Demonstrations were planned across the US on Tuesday in defense of abortion rights, which activists see as increasingly under attack.

He also said the physicians in the clinic were allegedly not following state laws relating to required pelvic exams of those seeking abortions. That procedure is a conflict point in and of itself, as abortion rights advocates see it as a medically unnecessary procedure.

Planned Parenthood released a statement from Dr. Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, saying that Parson's remarks "are simply not based on medicine, facts or reality."

"He has made it clear that his goal is to ban abortion care in the state of Missouri, and today's comments confirmed that this is exactly what this is all about," Wen said in her statement.

"Planned Parenthood takes the health and safety of our patients seriously -- and it is our top concern. We do everything to ensure our patients get the best medical care available. When we find anything that does not meet our high standards of care, we take swift action. Our health center meets the highest standard of care," Wen said.

Parson said that five of the seven doctors at the clinic declined to participate in interviews by the health department investigators. Later, when pressed on what the interviews would cover, Parson said, "We want to know what took place… The important thing here is to find out the facts. What really is going on in there? What happened?"

PHOTO: Hundreds of women and supporters attend a protest rally over recent restrictive abortion laws, May 21, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images
Hundreds of women and supporters attend a protest rally over recent restrictive abortion laws, May 21, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri.

He repeatedly said the license is still valid until Friday and they have until then to make sure that they comply with state laws.

Parson said that it would be "reckless" for the judge handling the lawsuit to allow Planned Parenthood's clinic to remain open if the concerns raised by the health department are not addressed by the time their license expires.

If the license is not removed, the clinic would not be able to operate legally, therefore shutting down access to abortions in the state.

Outside of Missouri, abortion advocates and opponents are also closely watching for any moves in Louisiana, as the state's Democratic governor is expected to break with his party and sign a so-called heartbeat bill into law, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, meaning as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

PHOTO: Abortion rights activists hold signs at a rally to oppose abortion bans and increased restrictions happening throughout the United States, at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 21, 2019. Natalie Behring/AFP/Getty Images
Abortion rights activists hold signs at a rally to oppose abortion bans and increased restrictions happening throughout the United States, at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 21, 2019.

When that happens, as it is expected to, Louisiana will become the sixth state to sign such a bill into law this year. Like every other similar law, it is expected to face immediate legal challenges. The Louisiana bill is linked to a "heartbeat" bill in Mississippi, which was ruled unconstitutional for going against Roe v. Wade by a federal court last week.

One of the other states that passed a so-called heartbeat law this year -- Georgia -- is facing more than just legal blowback.

The debate over the law in Georgia prompted early threats from filmmakers and unions who frequently shoot movies and television shows in the state because of its significant tax breaks.

PHOTO: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp shakes hands with state Sen. Renee Unterman after signing legislation banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, in Atlanta, May 7, 2019. Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp shakes hands with state Sen. Renee Unterman after signing legislation banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, in Atlanta, May 7, 2019.

Now, the state is facing the prospect of having those threats acted upon, as a Netflix official said they may "rethink" their prospects of filming in the state if the law were to go into effect.

"We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law," Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.

"Given the legislation has not yet been implemented, we'll continue to film there, while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to. Should it ever come into effect, we'd rethink our entire investment in Georgia," Sarandos said in the statement.