Louisiana governor calls for end to death penalty — and legalizing some abortions

shutterstock 299957261 1 Death row in an American prison. | Jerry-Rainey/Shutterstock

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, citing “pro-life values,” has called on lawmakers to end the state’s death penalty in the upcoming legislative session. At the same time, he called for the legalization of abortions for pregnant women who were raped or victims of incest.

The death penalty is “inconsistent with Louisiana’s pro-life values, as it quite literally promotes a culture of death,” Edwards said in his final State of the State address to state lawmakers on Monday. He said the death penalty doesn’t deter crime and is not necessary for public safety, the Associated Press reported.

There are 62 inmates on Louisiana’s death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state has performed 28 executions since 1976. Its last execution was in 2010. Eleven prisoners have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973.

Louisiana’s abortion ban, passed last year, allows abortions only where there is a substantial risk of death or impairment to the pregnant woman and for “medically futile” pregnancies where the unborn baby has a fatal anomaly. Performing an abortion can result in a maximum sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison.

The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat. Edwards, a Democrat and a self-described pro-life Catholic, signed it into law. Despite his “unwavering” position on abortion, he stated his belief that abortion should be legal for victims of rape or incest, WKRF Baton Rouge reported in June 2022.

Edwards reaffirmed this belief in his speech to lawmakers on Monday.

“I simply do not know how we, as a state, can tell a young girl or any victim of rape or incest that she must be forced by law to carry her rapist’s baby to term, regardless of the impact on her own physical or mental health, the wishes of her parents, or the medical judgment of her physician,” he said.

Edwards is term-limited and will not be able to run for governor this year.

If the proposed change becomes law, it could legalize several dozen abortions each year.

State figures from 2021 indicate there were 7,444 surgical abortions reported that year. Of these, 37 abortions, 0.5%, were reportedly performed because of rape or incest. Of these, none were performed on women under age 20. Figures from 2020 indicate that 28 abortions were performed for rape or incest that year, six of which were performed on girls under age 15 and fewer than five on women aged 15-19.

Louisiana Right to Life characterized the proposal as an effort “to legalize abortion through exceptions to our pro-life law.”

“We can’t let this happen,” the group said April 10. “We need to protect them both, mom and baby, regardless of their circumstance of conception.”

The group has launched a petition that asks the governor and lawmakers to “oppose any legislation that would legalize the destruction of innocent human children through abortion.”

In November 2020, 62% of Louisiana voters approved an amendment saying that the state constitution must not be interpreted to protect a right to abortion or to require the funding of abortion. Gov. Bel Edwards endorsed the proposal.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops called for full legal protection of the unborn.

“As Catholics, we must unequivocally stand for the dignity and respect for all human life from conception to natural death. Our Christian values, not to mention human decency, prompt us to act civilly and protect human life both born and unborn,” the bishops said in a statement.

The Catholic conference’s review of the 2022 legislative session noted a failure to eliminate the death penalty “despite a very coordinated effort from the Catholic community.”

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“The governor has noted this as a key agenda item for his last year in office,” its review said.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated an end to the death penalty for years.

In an April 18, 2017, statement, the bishops’ conference appealed to “all men and women of good faith,” especially Louisiana legislators, to “search their heart in an effort to seek mercy and love to support the repeal of the death penalty and aid in building a culture of life.”

“We remain deeply aware of the pain and grief that victims suffer, especially those who have lost a loved one through the crime of murder or crimes of violence,” the bishops’ conference said. “We pledge to deepen our commitment to persons who have suffered such violence, anguish, and pain. Our opposition to the death penalty is not intended in any way to diminish what victims and their families have suffered.”

“The stark reality is that capital punishment fails to bring back life that has been lost. It does not provide healing, reconciliation, or even peace to those impacted. Our merciful heavenly Father does provide such things to us when we turn to him and ask for his love to be poured out onto us,” the Louisiana bishops said.

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