Dem Governor Faces Backlash After Bucking Party to Sign 15-Week Abortion Ban

NARAL Pro-Choice America Accuses Edwards of 'Pandering to Anti-Choice Extremists'

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards / Getty Images

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards—one of the South's lone Democrats left in statewide officeis facing a backlash from state and national pro-choice groups for supporting legislation restricting the practice of abortion. 

Edwards bucked the national Democratic Party, which has long endorsed access to abortion in its official platform, Wednesday by announcing he had signed a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks. 

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 181, was championed by Democratic state senator John Milkovich and amassed bipartisan support in both chambers of the Louisiana State Legislature. Apart from prohibiting abortion after a pregnancy surpasses 15 weeks "gestational age," the law also imposes a penalty of up to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine for medical providers in violation.

The law explicitly includes language denoting a woman who procures an abortion after the 15-week window has lapsed is not to be subject to any legal punishment. 

When the ban is to take effect remains to be determined, as S.B. 181 included a provision stating it would only be implemented if the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rules a similar law recently enacted in neighboring Mississippi as constitutional.

Mississippi's law was put on hold after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a suit alleging it violated long-standing "Supreme Court precedent."

Milkovich, a pro-life Democrat serving his first term in the Louisiana State Senate, told the Washington Free Beacon he viewed S.B. 181 as a "great victory" for the unborn.

"This bill is a great victory for unborn children, who as common sense observation and human experience instruct are fully human beings," Milkovich said. "They're simply small and particularly vulnerable human beings."  

The senator heralded the overwhelming support his measure gathered as recognition of how deep pro-life sentiments ran in Louisiana.

"The passage of this legislation is not only a tribute to our pro-life governor, but to Louisiana's pro-life legislature as well," Milkovich stated. "I particularly commend my colleagues…and the persistently prayerful concerned women of America."

Not everyone shared the senator's position, as pro-abortion groups began to mobilize in opposition shortly after word broke Edwards had signed the ban into law.

Lift Louisiana, a pro-choice group seeking to "improve the health and well-being" of women, was one of the first to respond by launching a "five-figure" public education campaign to inform citizens about the "dangerous" limitations being placed on "quality abortion care."

Michelle Erenberg, the executive director of Lift Louisiana, told the Free Beacon her organization was opposed to S.B. 181 because it imposed "harsh, criminal penalties" on abortion providers and did not include adequate "medical" exceptions.

"This bill is extreme legislation that is more severe and constitutionally defective than Mississippi's ban," Erenberg said. "SB 181 imposes harsh, criminal penalties on doctors and callously fails to include a medical exception for severe fetal anomalies incompatible with survival."

Erenberg wasn't alone in her opinion as national groups came out to vocally deride the ban. NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's largest political advocacy organization working to counter restrictions on abortion, took a disparaging tone against the governor.

In a statement released Thursday, the group's national communications director, Kaylie Hanson Long, lambasted Edwards for his "shameful action." 

"This law is cruel, unnecessary, and unconstitutional," Hanson Long said. "This shameful action by the governor will put women in Louisiana at far greater risk."

Hanson Long reaffirmed her organization's commitment to "mobilizing" abortion activists across Louisiana to "demand" their "Democratic governor stop pandering" to "anti-choice extremists."

"While we are disappointed by the governor’s action, NARAL will continue mobilizing our members in Louisiana to demand that their legislators and Democratic governor stop pandering to anti-choice extremists and their fringe base," she added. "Louisiana women and families deserve better."

Edwards, who was first elected governor of Louisiana in 2015 by defeating former Republican senator David Vitter, is something of a rarity in the modern Democratic Party. 

A practicing Catholic, the governor is ardently opposed to abortion and has garnered accolades for championing pro-life causes throughout his political career. Edwards's views on life and conception, however, put him at odds with approximately 75 percent of registered Democrats who assert abortion should be legal in "all" or "most cases," according to the Pew Research Center.

Edwards's office did not return requests for comment on this story.

The contentious response to S.B. 181 by pro-choice groups underscores just how in disarray the national Democratic Party is over abortion. In recent election cycles, the issue has increasingly become a litmus test for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. This notion was best signified last year when Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, declared that being pro-choice was "not negotiable" for Democrats.

Perez's comments, which garnered wide rebuke from Republicans, were received enthusiastically by some Democrats and cautiously by others. This dynamic was perhaps best exemplified by the divergent stands Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) took in response.

At the time, Durbin echoed Perez's sentiment, stating only Democrats who "are prepared to back" Roe v. Wade, regardless of "personal conscience," can "be part of the party." Schumer, meanwhile, tried to strike a balance capable of pleasing both sides by claiming Democrats were a "big tent party" but also a "strongly pro-choice party."

This election cycle, the quest for ideological purity was further demonstrated when national Democrats backed a concerted effort to unseat one of the party's lone pro-life members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The attempt earned the endorsement of prominent Hollywood liberals but ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Pro-life Democrats, like those in Louisiana, are untroubled by the hostility posed by abortion advocates, according to Milkovich.

"Despite all the pious political and pseudo-philosophical posturing abortion is murder," he stated. "Nothing more, nothing less."

The senator articulated such criticisms only served to bolster his commitment to advancing pro-life values.

"The abortion cartel has a pathological obsession with infanticide and they are relentless," Milkovich said. "They are uncompromising in their attempts…we must be ten times more determined, resilient, and courageous in our efforts to engage, confront, and stop their onslaught."