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Louisiana bill would keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support

A bill passed by the Louisiana legislature that keeps brain-dead pregnant women on life support is now awaiting Gov. Jindal’s approval.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks during the American Conservative Union Conference March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.

A bill that requires physicians and hospitals to keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support has landed on Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk.

The Louisiana legislature last week passed the bill by an overwhelming majority to keep an unborn fetus alive should its mother remain mentally incapacitated. The bill, HB 1274, sponsored by Republican Rep. Austin Badon, aims "to permit the continuing development and live birth of the unborn child," regardless of the wishes of the mother's immediate family.

"Do we really want to pull the plug of that healthy baby?" Rep. Badon asked during his testimony last May at the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing about his bill.  

The only two ways to override the statute are for the pregnant patient to explicitly write in her will that she does not wish to be resuscitated while pregnant, or for the fetus to be under 20 weeks old. Final edits to HB 1274 specified that the law will apply to women who have been pregnant for 20 weeks or more, which is the legal cutoff for abortion in Louisiana.

"Laws like this show the sinister underlying belief that anti-choice politicians hold -- that women's sole purpose is to have children, and once we are pregnant, our rights to make our own decisions fly right out the window regardless of what we think, our families think, and what medical experts think," Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told msnbc. "And when women suffer unimaginable tragedies in our pregnancies that render us incapable of making our own decisions, those are best left to those who know and love us and to the medical professionals who are charged with our care."

A similar law was recently challenged in Texas, where the husband and family of a pregnant woman filed suit to take her off life support after the hospital continued to keep her alive in accordance with state law. The judge ruled that the Texas law prohibiting medical officials from cutting life support to a pregnant patient did not apply in that case, as the pregnant patient, Marlise Munoz, was legally dead.

The family successfully won their case and the patient was taken off life support when she was 22 weeks pregnant.

After the case received national attention in January, Rep. Badon was asked in the committee hearing whether or not the Texas lawsuit acted as the premise for the House bill. 

"In this legislative body ... we deal with what-ifs," Badon replied

During the state Senate floor debate, Sen. J.P. Morrell proposed an amendment to the bill that would have allowed family members to make end of life decisions for the pregnant patient. The amendment passed in the Senate, but was later rejected by the six-member conference committee of both House and Senate legislators. The amendment was not included in the final version of the bill.

"This bill shows politicians are interfering in all kinds of deeply personal decisions, whether it be difficult end of life decisions or the deeply personal decision to end a pregnancy," a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood wrote in an email to msnbc.

"With this bill, Jindal joins other politicians whose dangerous anti-woman agenda is out of step with the majority of Americans who agree that women should have the right to choose what's best for their reproductive health," said Ilyse Hogue.

The House passed the final bill, 87 to 1, and the Senate passed it 31 to 2 last Monday. 

The legislation has made its way to the governor's desk and is waiting for a thorough review, according to Gov. Jindal's press secretary, Shannon Bates. He is expected to sign the bill into law.