Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. January 30, 2024.

Editorial: Louisiana abortion laws have real-world effects we cannot ignore

When the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was handed down on June 24, 2022, activists on both sides of the abortion divide predicted what the future what look like.

The court’s reversal of nearly 50 years of jurisprudence granting women access to abortion returned the issue to the states, leaving a patchwork of laws across the country restricting abortion to varying degrees. States with so-called “trigger laws,” which were designed to go into effect in the immediate aftermath of Roe v. Wade’s defeat, saw the landscape of reproductive care change almost overnight.

Louisiana’s trigger law banned almost all abortions, with no exceptions for rape and incest. There were certain exemptions for medical conditions, but those were often unclear enough to make doctors fear legal repercussions if they performed what had previously been standard care.

We saw the closure of clinics. We heard stories of women seeking abortions at clinics far from Louisiana, of women being denied abortions even when the fetus wasn’t viable but didn’t have a medical condition on the list of exemptions, of women not being treated as they were miscarrying.

But what did that all add up to? What has been the real effect of the abortion ban in Louisiana?

We have data now, 18 months after the Dobbs decision, that shows the real-world effects on women and families of restrictive abortion laws.

An analysis of the available research by staff writers Emily Woodruff and Jeff Adelson shows the picture is fairly mixed. Anti-abortion activists would probably view it as a victory that researchers believe Louisiana has seen more babies born. In the first six months of 2023, Louisiana saw a 3.2% increase in births than it would have without the ban, according to a new study. That means the state was on track to see approximately an additional 1,800 births than it would have seen for the entire year.

At the same time, however, demand for abortion pills has skyrocketed. Aid Access, a telehealth organization, reported that requests for abortion pills from Louisiana increased from about 51 to 136 per week. There are also signs that more Louisiana women are seeking assistance to leave the state to access abortion.

It’s important that we follow the research and the data. Laws often have unintended effects, and when it comes to maternal and fetal health, Louisiana already ranks low, as this newspaper has documented.

For now, researchers indicate that most women seeking abortion are finding ways around the legal obstacles. But it may take a longer time to discover what happens to the women who don’t.

Those who care about mothers and babies would do well to remember that the effects of laws aren’t always apparent immediately.

If our state legislators really want to support Louisiana families, they should keep an eye on what the data are telling us.