For a Louisiana lawmaker, exempting incest and rape from the state's abortion ban is personal

Democratic state Rep. Delisha Boyd is fighting an uphill battle in her attempt to pass a bill that would exempt cases of rape and incest from Louisiana's near-total abortion ban

Sara Cline
Monday 06 May 2024 23:48 BST

For Louisiana Rep. Delisha Boyd, the uphill battle she faces to exempt pregnancies that are the result of rape and incest from Louisiana’s strict abortion ban is not just morally right — it’s also personal.

With a GOP-dominated legislative committee set to debate and vote on Boyd's exemption bill Tuesday, the Democratic New Orleans lawmaker has decided to publicly share her own story to underscore the importance of letting rape and incest survivors decide their own fates. If the bill advances, it will still have to make it through both Republican-led chambers of the Legislature.

Boyd says her mother, the victim of statutory rape by a man nearly twice her age, was only 15 when Boyd was conceived. Boyd was born in 1969, four years before abortion became legal under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

More than five decades later, rape and incest survivors in Louisiana who become pregnant find themselves in a similar situation: forced to carry the baby to term in a state that has one of the country’s highest maternal mortality rates, or to travel to another state where abortion is still legal.

Supporters of Louisiana’s ban note that if Boyd's mother had been given the choice to abort, the lawmaker might not exist.

“Aren't you glad to be here?” GOP state Rep. Tony Bacala asked her, according to a report in The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.

Boyd says it’s not that she regrets having been born; she just thinks her mother died before her time because of it. Boyd said her mother turned to drugs — something that Boyd attributes in large part to the trauma of giving birth and then raising a child as a teen — and as a result, died before she was 30.

“It was a life for a life,” Boyd told The Associated Press in an interview after a brief but emotional hearing held at the Legislature last week. “You’re then telling me to consider her life less important than my life.”

Boyd added that her story is likely an “exception to the rule” — other children of teen mothers can end up in foster care or turn to drugs or crime, she said. She said just because she turned out OK, it does not give her "the right to tell you what to do in your family.”

Since authoring the bill, Boyd says, she has been told stories similar to hers: that of a Louisiana girl who was raped and gave birth at 13 years old, and a 9-year-old girl who became pregnant after being sexually assaulted.

As in multiple other Republican states, Louisiana’s abortion law went into effect in 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a half-century of the nationwide right to abortion. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the mother if she continues the pregnancy or in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies — when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

In 2021, there were 7,444 reported abortions in Louisiana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 27 were obtained by people younger than 15. Nationwide, 1,338 pregnant patients under 15 received abortions, according to the CDC.

A study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that between July 2022 and January 2024, there were more than 64,000 pregnancies resulting from rape in states where abortion has been banned in all or most cases.

The legislative committee will review Boyd's bill on Tuesday. A nearly identical measure effectively died in the same committee last year. Committee members delayed the hearing they began last week to give Boyd time to make adjustments.

Boyd said she plans to amend her proposal so that rape and incest exceptions would only apply to those 17 and younger. She's hoping the change will help the measure advance to a debate before the full House.

Of the 14 states with abortion bans at all stages of pregnancy, six have exceptions in cases of rape and five have exceptions for incest. But Boyd faces an uphill battle in Louisiana, a reliably red state firmly ensconced in the Bible Belt, where even some Democrats oppose abortions.

She is hoping that sharing her mother’s story will bring to light the realities that pregnant rape and incest survivors face — and, even possibly, change the minds of some opposing lawmakers.

“No one took care of her, no one thought to even consider what was going on with her emotionally, psychologically, probably even spiritually. … I was just conceived and left for her to raise,” Boyd said.

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