La. Senate backs abortion regulation bills
Louisiana's health secretary should have broader discretion to revoke abortion clinic licenses in case of safety and health concerns, the state Senate decided Monday, giving final passage to the proposal.

The measure by Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, would allow the head of the Department of Health and Hospitals to immediately suspend a license if he decides there is an immediate health or safety threat at one of a handful of clinics in the state that provide abortions.

"Current law does not allow for immediate suspension for abortion clinic licenses, even when violations pose immediate health risks," said Sen. Willie Mount, D-Lake Charles, who handled the bill in the Senate.

Mount said that decision is left to a three-judge panel, which could take months to make a decision while the clinic can stay open.

Clinics could appeal the license suspension, under the bill.

The proposal also would increase the health secretary's authority to refuse to renew a license, revoke an existing license or deny a license if an investigation finds any violation of state or federal regulations.

Supporters say the bill would put the health secretary's authority over outpatient abortion clinics in line with the authority he has over other kinds of health care facilities, like pediatric day care, substance abuse and adult day care facilities.

Senators gave unanimous backing to the measure, sending it to the governor's desk. It already had received unanimous approval from the House. Gov. Bobby Jindal supports the bill.

The Senate overwhelmingly rejected an attempt by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, to remove a provision in the bill that would allow the DHH secretary to prohibit an operator or owner of an abortion clinic whose license is revoked from owning or managing another outpatient abortion clinic in the state.

Peterson argued the penalty was "extreme, and we don't do that with other businesses." She only got four votes in support of removing the language from the measure.

The Senate also approved a proposed ban on coverage for elective abortions in the insurance purchasing pools set up by the federal health overhaul legislation. The 28-3 vote of the Senate sends the measure by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, back to the House for approval of changes.

Among the changes, a Senate committee scaled back the bill to affect only the purchasing pools. As it passed the House, it also would have banned private insurance coverage for elective abortions in the state.

Hoffmann has said he'll support the Senate changes. He also said he thought the issue was moot anyway, because he hasn't found any private insurers in the state that currently cover elective abortions.

Hoffmann's bill includes an exception for abortions when a mother's life is in danger - but no exception for rape and incest victims, as other states have included in similar bills.

Opponents have argued the measure would add an unnecessary obstacle to women trying to get an abortion and should include exceptions for rape and incest victims. No one spoke against the proposal, however, on the Senate floor Monday.