Louisiana House approves bill banning abortions after 20 weeks

NEW ORLEANS Fri Jun 1, 2012 7:50pm EDT

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NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The Louisiana state House of Representatives on Friday unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit abortion beyond 20 weeks after fertilization unless the mother's life is in danger.

Georgia a month ago became the seventh state to ban most or all abortions after 20 weeks. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and North Carolina also have such restrictions.

Under the Louisiana measure, doctors who violate the 20-week provision could face up to two years in prison.

Senate President John Alario, who introduced the bill, earlier agreed to an amendment requested by the Louisiana State Medical Society that would absolve physicians from penalties if they perform an abortion to protect the life of a pregnant woman. Otherwise, a violation would subject a doctor to fines and imprisonment.

The bill, which already received nearly unanimous approval of the Senate, received a minor technical amendment in the House on Friday, so it returns to the Senate for a final vote. Lawmakers are widely expected to give the measure approval within the next few days.

Representative Frank Hoffman, who shepherded the bill in the House, said it will solidify the state's reputation as a "pro-life" state.

The measure, which Hoffman referred to as the "pain bill," is based on controversial research that a fetus can feel pain by that stage of development.

"This bill means that if a child can feel pain, the child cannot be killed," Hoffman said on the House floor.

He later told Reuters that by some estimates, about 150 abortions are performed in Louisiana each year on fetuses that would fit the 20-week restriction.

Julie Mickelberry, public affairs director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, criticized the House action.

"Today, legislators ignored the health care needs of Louisiana women," she said in a statement. "Doctors, not politicians, should decide what is in the best interest of their patients."

The bill passed the House by a vote of 96-0, and 72 House members signed on as co-authors.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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