The Louisiana Senate yesterday sustained Gov. Buddy Roemer's veto of a bill that would outlaw abortions except to protect the life of the woman.
Another vote on the issue is likely today because Senate rules allow a second vote when a majority votes in favor of an action. The vote to override was 23 to 16, three votes short of the 26 votes required to override a veto. The state House voted to override the veto Friday.
"We're working hard to switch some votes," said Rep. Woody Jenkins (D), author of the measure. But Terri Bartlett, director of Louisiana Planned Parenthood, said she expects "the 16 senators, who withstood so much pressure today, to stand strong."
The bill, which passed two weeks ago, would have been the nation's most restrictive state antiabortion law. Doctors who perform abortions would have faced up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Drafted by state and national antiabortion organizations, the legislation is part of an effort by antiabortion groups to get a bill through a state legislature that will provide an opportunity to challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized most abortions.
Calling the bill "inhumane and unconstitutional," Leslie Gerwin, a lawyer with an abortion-rights coalition, said yesterday's action by the state Senate "prevented Louisiana's taxpayers from being used to challenge the Supreme Court."
The Louisiana legislature was considered the last one this year with a chance to create a test case that could reach the high court.
Nancy Myers of the National Right to Life Committee said the Senate's failure to override the veto was "unfortunate, but not unexpected."
Myers predicted the attention of antiabortion activists will shift to the fall elections. She said next year more antiabortion legislation will be initiated in the states.
Roemer, who told lawmakers when the legislative session began last April he would find "unacceptable" an antiabortion bill that did not include rape and incest exceptions, vetoed the measure Friday.
"As a member of Congress, I consistently voted to curb abortion on demand and to protect the life of a fetus," Roemer, a Democrat, wrote in his veto message. "But over the years of struggling with this issue, I became acutely aware of the need to except those instances where conception occurred because of rape or incest. Women cannot and should not be forced to bear the consequences of these traumatic, illegal acts."
The House voted 73 to 31 -- three more votes than needed -- to override. The bill received 24 votes when it passed the Senate last month. One senator switched to uphold Roemer's veto in yesterday's 23-to-16 vote.
Proponents of an override yesterday bought full-page ads in newspapers featuring a message from Mother Teresa, who sent a telegram to Roemer in favor of the bill.
During the emotional four-hour debate, more than 4,000 demonstrators, the majority of them antiabortion supporters, gathered at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge.
State Sen. Mike Cross (D), a Senate sponsor of the antiabortion bill, told lawmakers that failure to override the veto will not end the issue, according to an Associated Press report of the debate. "You think it's tough this year?" Cross said. "It's not going to wait until next year at this time. It's going to be a long, long, long year if we don't vote to override the governor's veto."
There are legislative elections and a gubernatorial election in Louisiana in 1991.
State Sen. Sydney Nelson (D) argued no woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy that results from rape or incest. "Are we as 39 men to make a decision that so materially affects the ladies of our state?" Nelson asked. "I say the governor's veto is reasonable."
Had the override succeeded, it would have been the first time this century that Louisiana legislators had overruled a governor's veto.