For the second time in a month, Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (D) has vetoed what would have been the nation's most restrictive state antiabortion law. "I vetoed this bill because it does not meet even the minimum standards set forth by me long ago," Roemer said yesterday.
Passed by the Louisiana legislature July 8, the bill banned abortions except in cases of rape, incest or where a woman's life was in danger. It would have sentenced physicians who performed abortions to stiff fines and jail terms.
A leading antiabortion lawmaker said he will seek a special legislative session to override the governor, although the chances of such a session seem slim, observers said.
Supporters of the bill had hoped it would provide a challenge to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized most abortions. They also hoped that it would address Roemer's criticism in vetoing an earlier, more restrictive antiabortion bill. He had insisted on exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
Roemer said at a news conference yesterday in Baton Rouge that the rape exception in the new bill was too narrow. "The incest provisions are as I desire, giving a first trimester period of personal decision," he said. "Rape, however, is treated unevenly and unsatisfactorily."
Roemer, who said two weeks ago he would not sign the bill but would either veto it or allow it to become law without his signature, complained the measure would require victims to report a rape within seven days. He had requested a provision allowing a woman 30 days to report a rape and later have an abortion.
Nancy Myers, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said Roemer "betrayed the 'pro-life' majority that elected him. Governor Roemer has abandoned thousands of unborn children."
She accused him of using "phony excuses."
But Joy Gilmore, president of the Louisiana chapter of the National Organization for Women, called Roemer's decision "rational and reasonable" and said it "sends a clear and distinctive message that the power of the pro-choice majority cannot be denied."
Roemer had expressed doubts about whether the bill would survive a promised challenge in court by abortion-rights activists.
When it landed on his desk July 9, he called the bill "a step in the right direction," but questioned whether it was "a constitutional step."
Yesterday, he said, "This veto will not end the debate, nor should it. An issue this personal, this complex, demands the best. This is not the best."
Lawmakers had rushed to put the bill together the day before the session ended after failing by three votes to override Roemer's veto of the more restrictive antiabortion bill.
The Senate gutted an anti-flag-burning bill that called for a maximum $25 fine for people who assault flag burners, amending it into an antiabortion bill that calls for sentences of up to 10 years at "hard labor" and fines of up to $100,000 for physicians who perform abortions.
Although the state legislature is decidedly antiabortion, voters in the state are split about evenly on the issue, according to a recent independent poll.
Roemer repeated yesterday that he is "pro-life," adding, "abortion on demand and as a substitute for birth control must be, in the name of the unborn, sharply controlled." But, he said, "some common-sense, decent exceptions should be made."
Shortly after the veto was announced, state Rep. Woody Jenkins (D) said he would ask lawmakers to agree to a special session next month to attempt an override vote.
No Louisiana governor's veto has been overridden this century, but supporters believe an override, which requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber, is possible because the bill Roemer vetoed yesterday passed by more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
But an antiabortion activist said a special session was "a long shot." A special session must be approved by a majority of legislators voting by mail. The Louisiana legislature has never agreed to return for a special veto session.