By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Although disappointed by the failure to abolish capital punishment, the recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature was buoyed by “strong pieces of pro-life legislation,” according to  Danielle Van Haute, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Van Haute said she was encouraged by the passage of several pro-life bills, including legislation that makes abortion clinic employees mandatory reporters of human trafficking and other sexual based crimes. She said the bill also mandates the posting of human trafficking hotline numbers in those same facilities.

Passage of the so called “Love Life” amendment also made headlines, even though a last-minute delay will send the proposal to voters in the fall of 2020 instead of later this year, as was originally passed. Van Haute said her understanding of the delay was that organizers believed there will be a stronger voter turnout in 2020, which is a presidential election year.

“It seemed that it was all set to happen for this fall and then it was a very last minute decision (to delay) ,” she said.

Additionally, legislators adopted the heartbeat bill but that will not go into effect until a final court ruling is made on a similar Mississippi law that is making its way through the federal court system and could ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. If enacted, the law would prevent abortions being performed on unborn babies when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Van Haute said she was disappointed in the failure to push through a bill that would end capital punishment in Louisiana. At least two pieces of legislation were floated, including allowing voters to voice their opinion through a proposed constitutional amendment but neither gained adequate traction to go before a full vote in either house.

“I think with each session we continue to make a little more progress in terms of getting (eliminating the death penalty) on peoples’ minds and hopefully helping them to think more and pray more about it,” Van Haute said.

She said one lesson she learned is that more dialogue is needed on the national and local levels regarding pro-life issues. She mentioned just having reasonable discussions, understanding the concerns of opponents, finding common ground and articulating the pro-life position is becoming increasingly difficult.

Van Haute believes the passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York, where the law states that a baby can be killed even after birth in the event of a botched abortion attempt, has dramatically altered the landscape. She said since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law, several states, especially those in the South, have passed more stringent anti-abortion laws, while other states have passed laws “enshrining laws that don’t exist, such as a right to an abortion.”

“New York was a landmark case,” she said. “In that decision some of what people believed would never happen has happened.”

Fear is increasingly playing a role, Van Haute added, a fear from some who believe that stronger laws protecting the rights of the unborn are taking away the rights of a woman, and that women are moving backward to a time when they were not seen as equals.

“I think it’s important to recognize that fear but also be able to articulate how the right to abortion doesn’t make us more womanly,” she said. “It’s actually pitting us against our nature as women. To choose between a mother and her child is completely against nature.”

She said it’s also an illusion to believe women need to protect the ability to have an abortion to give woman equality. “That does not give us equality,” she said. “It makes us more like men, which is not empowering.”

Van Haute said lawmakers must continue to expand public policies and laws upholding the dignity of all human, including continuing to fight against capital punishment.

“That doesn’t mean we stop fighting for the rights of the unborn and it doesn’t mean we are saying that all pro-life issues are equal,” she said. “That is not what we are saying but we are called to uphold the dignity of all human life.”

The Legislature adjourned June 6.

All legislative seats will be up for grabs during the Oct. 12 election. Some legislators are being term-limited but could run for election in the opposing body.