Louisiana lawmakers reject adding exceptions of rape and incest to abortion ban

Despite pleas from Democrats and gut-wrenching testimony from doctors and rape survivors, a GOP-controlled legislative committee rejected a bill Tuesday that would have added cases of rape and incest as exceptions to Louisiana’s abortion ban.

In the reliably red state, which is firmly ensconced in the Bible Belt and where even some Democrats oppose abortions, adding exceptions to Louisiana's strict law has been an ongoing battle for advocates — with a similar measure failing last year. Currently, of the 14 states with abortion bans at all stages of pregnancy, six have exceptions in cases of rape and five have exceptions for incest.

"I will beg (committee) members to come to common sense," Democratic state Rep. Alonzo Knox said to fellow lawmakers ahead of the vote, urging them to give approval to the exceptions. “I'm begging now.”

Lawmakers voted against the bill along party lines, with the measure failing 4-7.

A nearly identical bill met the same fate last year, effectively dying in the same committee. In the hopes of advancing the legislation out of committee and to the House floor for full debate, bill sponsor Democratic state Rep. Delisha Boyd added an amendment to the measure so that the exceptions would only apply to those who are younger than 17. However, the change was still not enough to sway opponents.

“We have cases here in Louisiana with children being raped and then subjected to carrying a child to term,” Boyd, a Democrat who has told her own mother’s story in an effort to fight for passage of the bil l. “I hope we take a look at the fact that this is to protect the most vulnerable, our children.”

Boyd said she will continue to try to get the bill onto the floor, possibly asking the House chamber to vote to bypass the committee. However, the technique is rarely successful for Democrats in the Legislature where Republicans hold a supermajority.

While most of those who voted against the bill did not give a reason for their vote, GOP state Rep. Dodie Horton offered her thoughts, saying that while she believes convicted rapists should receive the maximum penalty possible, she can't in good conscience allow for abortions. She described the fetuses as “innocent children.”

“I think we should punish the perpetrator to the nth degree, I’d love to hang them from the high street if it was in my power to do so. But I cannot condone killing the innocent,” Horton said.

As in multiple other Republican states, Louisiana’s abortion law went into effect in 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a half-century of the nationwide right to abortion. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the mother if she continues the pregnancy or in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies — when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Democrats have repeatedly fought — and failed — to loosen the law by clarifying vague language, abolishing jail time for doctors who perform illegal abortions and adding exceptions.

“It's disgusting to me that we have a society where we can't make exceptions in a situation where a young girl's innocence has been taken away in the most vile way... and now she's impregnated and somebody, somewhere, wants to force a nine, 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old child to have a baby for the monster that took away her innocence?” Knox said.

The bill attracted dozens of people to testify, including rape survivors who shared their own stories and doctors who argued that their hands are tied by the current law.

OB-GYN Dr. Neelima Sukhavasi told lawmakers that since the abortion ban has gone into effect, she and other colleagues have delivered babies who are birthed by teenagers who have been raped.

“One of these teenagers delivered a baby while clutching a Teddy Bear — and that's an image that once you see that, you can't unsee it,” Sukhavasi said.

In 2021, there were 7,444 reported abortions in Louisiana, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 27 were obtained by people younger than 15. Nationwide, 1,338 pregnant patients under 15 received abortions, according to the CDC.

A study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that between July 2022 and January 2024, there were more than 64,000 pregnancies resulting from rape in states where abortion has been banned in all or most cases.