Louisiana proposes expanding list of exceptions to abortion ban

By: - October 20, 2022 12:28 pm

People protest in response to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022. The Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned the landmark 50-year-old Roe v. Wade case and erased a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Louisiana has proposed adding one new condition to the list of medical diagnoses that permit a person to have an abortion under the state’s strict abortion ban. It comes after a woman complained publicly that she couldn’t terminate her compromised pregnancy.

The state Department of Health quietly suggested an update to state abortion regulations in September that would put acrania – a disorder where a fetus develops without a complete skull – in the group of “medically futile” pregnancy conditions that can justify an abortion under state law.

The change was proposed about a month after Nancy Davis told reporters she had been denied an abortion at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge for a fetus diagnosed with acrania. The condition results in miscarriage, stillbirth or a very short lifespan for an infant born after the prognosis.

Davis said Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge told her it could not end her pregnancy because of Louisiana’s abortion ban that went into effect last summer. She ended up traveling to New York in early September to undergo the procedure. Woman’s Hospital has not responded to a request for comment for this story.

Adding acrania to the state’s medically futile pregnancy conditions list would change that dynamic moving forward. Once it is on the list, a person with a pregnancy affected by acrania should be able to get to an abortion, and a hospital could provide one without question.

Still, the process for putting acrania on that list is slow-going. The health department has opted to update the state’s abortion regulations through a process that takes at least four months – and often as long as six or seven months.

Officials decided not to use an emergency process that would add acrania to the list immediately.

“I am very pleased they are adding acrania [to the medically futile conditions list], but it should be added as an emergency item immediately,” Davis said in an interview. “There are women who are in underserved communities who need access to medical care – and they need access now.”

The health department, which is in charge of drafting and amending abortion regulations, has not answered questions about why it wants to add acrania to the pregnancy conditions list.

Health Secretary Courtney Phillips declined in person last month to respond to a reporter’s question about whether state abortion regulations would be updated. Instead, she referred the reporter to her agency’s communications department.

This story was published earlier by the Louisiana Illuminator, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network that includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C.