Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana signaled his opposition on Wednesday to pending legislation that would classify abortion as homicide and make it possible for prosecutors to bring criminal cases against women who end a pregnancy.
The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, La., reported that Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, dismissed the legislation as a “patently unconstitutional” bill that he would veto if it were passed by lawmakers. His criticism, made while speaking at a Rotary Club event, came on the eve of a scheduled vote on the bill in the Republican-controlled State House of Representatives.
“To suggest that a woman would be jailed for an abortion is simply absurd,” Mr. Edwards said in a separate statement on Wednesday. “This legislation is radical, and it goes far beyond simply being pro-life.”
Mr. Edwards, the two-term governor of the conservative state, is the only Democrat holding that office in the Deep South. But he has a history of ardent support for anti-abortion legislation, such as a state law barring abortions, including in cases of rape and incest, at any time after fetal cardiac activity can be detected — a move that angered many in his own party.
“My Catholic Christian faith teaches me to be pro-life,” Mr. Edwards said on Wednesday, “which is something I’ve been honest and upfront about with the people of Louisiana, who I believe mostly agree with me.”
The bill tests what has long been a boundary for many anti-abortion activists, who have resisted criminal charges against women who seek or obtain abortions. Some of the most prominent anti-abortion groups in Louisiana have expressed their opposition to the bill on those grounds. One of the groups, Louisiana Right to Life, said in a statement, “Our longstanding policy is that abortion-vulnerable women should not be treated as criminals.”
It has also stirred intense blowback from supporters of abortion access who condemned the legislation as “reckless” because it stands to have far-reaching consequences by legally defining personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Critics said it would not only stand to interfere with women’s access to abortion, but also potentially criminalize in vitro fertilization, forms of birth control and certain medical treatments for women who have miscarriages.
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