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

For Louisiana Rep. Delisha Boyd, the uphill battle she faces to exempt pregnancies resulting from rape and incest from Louisiana’s strict abortion ban isn’t just morally right — it’s also personal.

As a Republican Party-dominated legislative committee is set to debate and vote on Boyd’s relief bill on Tuesday, the Democratic lawmaker from New Orleans has decided to share her own story publicly to underscore the importance of letting rape and incest survivors decide their own fate. If the bill moves forward, it will still have to pass both Republican-led chambers of the Legislature.

Boyd says her mother, a 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: They are forced to carry the baby to term in a state with one of the nation’s highest maternal mortality rates, or to move to another able to travel where abortion is still legal.

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

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“Aren’t you happy to be here?” Republican Party 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 being born; she just thinks that her mother died before her time because of it. Boyd said her mother turned to drugs — something Boyd attributes in large part to the trauma of childbirth and then raising a child as a teenager — 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 in the Legislature last week. “You’re telling me then that I should consider her life less important than my life.”

Boyd added that her story is likely an “exception to the rule”: Other children of teenage mothers may end up in foster care or turn to drugs or crime, she said. She said that just because everything went well for her doesn’t give her “the right to tell you what to do in your family.”

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Boyd says that since the bill was drafted, she has been told stories similar to her own: that of a Louisiana girl who was raped and gave birth at age 13, and a 9-year-old girl who became pregnant after being sexually assaulted. had been abused.

Like several other Republican states, Louisiana’s abortion law took effect in 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, ending a half-century of nationwide abortion rights. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is a significant risk of death or disability to the mother if she continues the pregnancy, or in the case of ‘medically futile’ pregnancies – when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

There were 7,444 reported abortions in Louisiana in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, 27 were obtained by people under the age of 15. Nationwide, 1,338 pregnant patients under the age of 15 underwent abortions, the CDC said.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that between July 2022 and January 2024, more than 64,000 pregnancies occurred due to rape in states that ban abortion in all or most cases.

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The legislative committee will review Boyd’s bill Tuesday. A nearly identical measure effectively died in the same committee last year. Committee members postponed the hearing they had begun last week to give Boyd time to make adjustments.

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

Of the 14 states that ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, six apply to cases of rape and five to cases of incest. But Boyd faces an uphill battle in Louisiana, a reliably red state firmly entrenched in the Bible Belt, where even some Democrats oppose abortions.

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

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

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