“Invest in the South”: Protecting Abortion Access For Louisianans in Wake of Amendment 1

“To protect human life, nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

 

—Amendment 1, as it appeared on the ballot in Louisiana

Ultimately, nearly 800,000 Louisianans (38 percent of voters) voted “No” and over 1.2 million Louisianans (62 percent) voted “Yes” on Amendment 1—a change to the state constitution that could open the possibility for the state to criminalize abortion, should Roe v. Wade be overturned. Even after election results came in, many are still not sure what the amendment even meant

"Invest in the South": Protecting Abortion Access for Louisianians In Wake of Amendment 1 Passage
Vote No on 1—the Feminist Majority Foundation’s state-wide campus initiative, in concert with Louisiana for Personal Freedoms—is a youth-led cohort that aimed to prevent the passage of Louisiana’s Amendment 1. (@VoteNo1LA / Twitter)

So, what just happened in Louisiana? 

Short answer: Amendment 1 changed the state’s constitution to explicitly state that the constitution does not protect abortion rights. Amendment 1 paves the way for a state-level abortion ban if federal abortion rights are dismantled—increasingly possible with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. 

To be clear: Is abortion still legal in Louisiana? Yes.

Can you get an abortion in Louisiana? Depends—but that was the case before Amendment 1. 

For Many Louisianans, We Are Already in a Post-Roe Reality

To be sure, legality does not mean access. The federal Hyde Amendment already prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion with exceptions, therefore disproportionately impacting accessibility for poor Black and brown people who, due to systemic racism and poverty, rely on Medicaid. (In the decade of my experience as a patient advocate at Hope Medical Group, there has not been a single time where Medicaid has actually helped cover the cost for such an exemption.)

Louisiana currently has nearly 100 TRAP (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) laws, the most of any state in the country. To be clear, TRAP laws aren’t about health or safety—they are about restricting access. TRAP laws such as 24-hour waiting periods or hospital admitting privilege requirements create additional financial barriers for an already expensive out-of-pocket medical expense. Due to these medically unnecessary restrictions placed on abortion clinics, there are only three clinics in the entire state to serve the nearly one million women of reproductive age in Louisiana. For so many Louisianans, abortion is not accessible—we are already living in a post-Roe reality.

Abortion Access For Louisianans In Wake of Amendment 1
After the decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Texas abortion case, Supreme Court, Washington, D.C., in June 2016. (Adam Fagen / Flickr)

“Louisiana Voters Did Not Create This”

Amendment 1 was not an isolated incident, but rather part of deliberate national anti-abortion strategies decades in the making.

“This wasn’t a mandate from the people of Louisiana. It is verbatim the same language used in a measure passed in West Virginia two years ago,” said Katrina Rogers, campaign manager of Louisiana for Personal Freedoms (LPF), the coalition leading the campaign to defeat the amendment. “Louisiana voters did not create this.”

Amendment 1 was pushed through legislatively by a two-thirds vote. There was no input from constituents. Women comprise only 16 percent of the Louisiana state legislature—so the people most impacted were not present to cast a vote. And many questions remain, like: Why this copy-and-paste legislation from Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia?

Moreover, the purpose of the language about funding was to misdirect voters: Though the legislators that drafted this amendment know the use of federal funds for abortion is already prohibited, the average Louisianan does not.

“It should be illegal to place a preamble that says ‘to protect human life’ when the act that you’re doing could also cause the death [of pregnant people] and suffering. The deceptive, inaccessible language and disinformation around abortion laid the groundwork for folks to second-guess themselves,” said Pearl Ricks, director of the Reproductive Justice Action Collective (REJAC). “The amendment itself was drafted to create confusion and cement any wrong information someone has about current abortion access in Louisiana. We found that after we clarified and broke down the language of the amendment in our focus groups, people voted no.” 

The amendment’s language of “[protecting] human life” is inaccurate and misleading. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. In contrast, restricting access to safe abortion kills 68,000 women annually around the world, according to the National Institute of Health—making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.

Abortion Access For Louisianans In Wake of Amendment 1
(@VoteNo1LA / Twitter)

This year, during a time of crisis, Louisiana legislators have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on court costs (i.e. June Medical v. Russo) and disinformation by way of fake clinics, rather than investing in comprehensive sex education or addressing the high rates of maternal and infant mortality that disproportionately affect Black people.

One of the most prevalent reasons someone decides to have an abortion is because they simply cannot afford to become a parent. Louisiana has the third-highest poverty rate in the nation, and Black people there are almost 2.5 times as likely as whites to live in poverty—meaning abortion restrictions disproportionately devastate Black communities. 


Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Invest in the South

Abortion Access For Louisianans In Wake of Amendment 1
Supreme Court, 2012. (Debra Sweet / Flickr)

In both Colorado and Louisiana, state ballot initiatives this year had the potential to severely restrict abortion access. But by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, Colorado voted to protect abortion access by defeating Proposition 115. In contrast, Louisiana faces an even more challenging road ahead. 

But now is not the time to write off Southern states, say activists on the ground: If anything, they need more time and money allocated toward activism.

Campaigns require money, and it is more expensive and laborious to run a defensive campaign. In places where the work is harder and requires more, the need for investment of time and money is higher too.

“Louisiana was often compared and lumped together with Colorado in national meetings about fundraising. Some funders outright told us that they’re putting all of their money into Colorado and not investing in Louisiana because they didn’t think we could win here,” Rogers told Ms

Abortion Access For Louisianans In Wake of Amendment 1
D.C. Women’s March, 2018. (Wikimedia)

“I will fight to the death if people try to use what happened with Amendment 1 to say that we can’t win in Louisiana or try to argue that the strategy and the people we tried to center were wrong. That’s not the issue at all. You can’t win campaigns without money and the people who had money refused to give it to us. Even within Louisiana, a lot of organizations simply did not work with us. Some of them refused or just didn’t even respond to us. Some organizations reached out and made promises, but gave us absolutely nothing. Trusting Black women is not putting Black women in positions to fail and disregarding everything that is requested.” 

In other words, it’s time the growing momentum harnessed by the #TrustBlackWomen movement translates into a commitment to resources and mobilization. 

Reproductive Health Advocates Continue the Fight Post-Election

Progressive organizing—like the youth- and people of color-led coalition that mobilized in the lead-up to November—demands that people imagine a world they’ve never seen before, a more just and equitable world.

“Despite the circumstances, we were able to build incredible networks and mobilization within a span of only a few weeks,” said Steffani Bangel, executive director of New Orleans Abortion Fund and member of LPF. 

Although reproductive rights organizations in the state had been meeting for nearly a year around the amendment, the plans for campaigning were disrupted by coronavirus and a lack of funds. Being able to mobilize despite these issues is in large part due to community relationships and intergenerational organizing. 

“The most important and radical Black leaders have been building power for decades in places that don’t necessarily reflect the full voting will of the people,” Bangel told Ms. “The intergenerational dialogue and growth within our statewide campaign was especially showcased in our digital organizing that left a very creative, innovative and thoughtful imprint on this campaign.” 

The Vote No on 1 coalition connected students from around the state to help educate their peers. Many of the students say they have found their calling in reproductive rights, some changing their majors to shift in ways that will help continue their role in the fight.

“There are so many ways that we can be protecting ourselves and protecting our options,” stated Ricks, “Abortion is still here and we can make sure that it stays that way. I want to inform people of how this even came to a vote, how we can change the [state] House and Senate to get some two-thirds of our own.” 

Ricks has plans with REJAC to host legislation writing workshops. The organization is also working on an initiative to ensure that all ballot measures be written at a middle-school reading level. 

“At REJAC we found that sexual education information was most digestible for people at a middle-school reading level,” said Ricks, “so we write all of our external documents to meet the needs of our community. Anything that will have a major impact on people’s lives, like ballot measures, should be written in the clearest way possible.” 

Louisiana’s abortion providers have had little respite this year, but are still committed to the cause of reproductive freedom and have hope for federal legislation. 

“If we could potentially get something like the [federal] Women’s Health Protection Act passed, we would have those protections and I think it would have far reaching implications,” said Kathaleen Pittman, administrator for Hope Medical group who just won the landmark SCOTUS case June Medical v. Russo. “The day after the election, we were slammed with phone calls. People literally crying, ‘Are you closing? Are you closing?’ Staff was reduced to tears. People know we are here. We will continue to be here.”

Nearly 800,000 people voted to defend abortion access. 

“That does not sound like the ‘most pro-life state in the U.S.’ to me,” said Bangel, “I am heartened by our growth. We have time to organize and learn from the data. Parishes that had votes to defend abortion access—those are opportunities. That sounds like a growing movement. That sounds like the drumbeat of change. ”

Take Action: “Invest in the South”

To help provide funds for abortion care in Louisiana, consider donating to:

To provide support for clinics: Abortion Care Network

To invest in a Black- and queer-led reproductive justice organization on the ground: REJAC

To learn more about the legislative landscape on the ground, visit:

You may also like:


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About

A.J. Haynes is a Black & Filipino queer femme musical artist (Seratones), abortion care patient advocate ( Hope Medical Group), and educator. A self-identified feminist killjoy, she is fiercely committed to cultivating spaces for growth through pleasure, joy, rage and inquiry.