BATON ROUGE, LA., JULY 8 -- The state legislature tonight passed the strictest abortion bill of any state, voting to ban most abortions and punish doctors who perform them with up to 10 years of hard labor.
The state Senate earlier failed to override the governor's veto of an even stronger measure that would have barred all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, except to save the life of the mother.
The new bill, introduced in haste after the failure of the override effort, passed by a 32-7 vote in the Senate and a swift 83-22 vote in the House. It goes now to Gov. Buddy Roemer, who has indicated he would accept an abortion bill that contained the rape and incest exceptions. Through a spokeswoman, Roemer said he had not seen tonight's bill and would not comment on it until Monday.
Proponents of the abortion bill hope it will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, leading to a showdown over the 1973 high court ruling that legalized abortion.
The bill bans abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life. It carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for doctors who perform abortions. It would not penalize the woman who seeks the abortion.
The move came on an amendment by Sen. John Saunders adding antiabortion language to an unrelated bill that banned flag burning. It stripped out that language and would outlaw abortion by creating a new crime: simple battery of abortion. Simple battery in Louisiana ordinarily is a misdemeanor, with a maximum six-month prison term and $500 fine.
Abortion-rights supporters reacted with incredulity.
"We've just seen the legislature go from the most restrictive abortion bill in the nation to the most absurd," said Terri Bartlett of Planned Parenthood of Louisiana. "The only thing that surpasses it is the mockery of the legislative process."
Rep. Woody Jenkins, the original bill's author, voted against the new version because of his belief "that the unborn is a human being from the moment of conception and we ought not make exceptions."
The Senate sustained Roemer's veto of the earlier bill Saturday with a 23-16 vote to override, three short of the needed two-thirds majority.
Pennsylvania currently has the strictest state abortion law, but it is less restrictive than the Louisiana bill. It requires that a woman wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, bans abortions based on the fetus's sex and bans abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy except to save the life of the mother or prevent "substantial and irreversible harm."
An even stricter abortion bill was passed in the U.S. territory of Guam. But it has been blocked by court challenges. That law makes it a felony to perform an abortion or aid in the procedure, a misdemeanor for a woman to have an abortion and a misdemeanor for a person to solicit a woman to have an abortion.