With one vote, Louisiana legislators will change Louisiana’s culture for years to come. House Bill 388 will determine whether Louisiana is a state that dictates the kind of medical care a person receives. It will decide whether we have become a state that favors the rich. And it could lay to rest that Kingfish notion that Louisiana is a place where doctors are available to the rich and poor alike.
Of course, HB 388 does not raise these issues directly. The bill itself is aimed at restricting access to abortions by requiring doctors who provide them have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the doctor’s office. At first glance, the bill does not sound particularly alarming. Its supporters say the law would protect mothers, but legislators ignore the bill’s far-reaching implications, which Louisianans, whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, should find disconcerting.
If passed, the law is likely to cause doctors to go out of business and health clinics to close, because the likelihood of a Louisiana hospital providing an abortion doctor with admitting privileges is miniscule. Fair enough. Most Louisianans would probably like to see that happen. But closing every abortion clinic in the state would harm the women the law purportedly protects by forcing them to delay abortion care, ensuring fewer women will access a doctor in time to avoid surgery. Even if every abortion clinic in Louisiana closes, HB 388 will not have ended abortion. It will have prescribed surgery for it.
Perhaps an abortion doctor will get admitting privileges and not shutter her clinic. The legislature will have failed in its mission to end abortions in Louisiana, but the result will be far worse. HB 388 will ensure abortions are available to rich women, who can afford to travel to wherever abortions are available, but not poor and rural women. Putting aside whether abortion should be a constitutional right — the Supreme Court has said it is — is Louisiana the kind of state that charges for constitutional rights?
If legislators were honest, they would talk straight. The bill before the House is not about protecting women. HB 388 is about denigrating poor women. Rich women will always be able to afford an abortion. They can pay for the procedure, whether finding an abortion doctor means driving to New Orleans or flying to New York City. Louisiana has already shut down its charity hospitals. Now, the legislature wants to start down a path of creating laws that blatantly deny impoverished people access to doctors and medical services their rich neighbors can afford.
HB 388’s requirement of hospital admitting privilege sounds like a good idea. After all, what if something bad happens during an abortion procedure? For this, I have an answer: go to the emergency room. A doctor does not have to transfer an ailing patient for the patient to be admitted to the hospital. That is, until the legislature decides emergency rooms are cash only.
R. Kyle Alagood is a law student at the LSU Law Center. He is Southern Region I Chair of the National LGBT Bar Association Student Congress and a former Research Associate at the Brennan Center for Justice.
(Originally printed in The Shreveport Times and The News Star)