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Abortion bills put Edwards in uncomfortable position

Even as Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards suffered political defeat during the recently-concluded special session of the Louisiana Legislature, legislation filed during the regular session provides him an opportunity to score some political points – or maybe demonstrate fraudulence of his asserted social conservatism.

Edwards called the session ostensibly to pursue fiscal reform, but his call defined that as extremely heavy on tax hikes and very light on spending cuts, with little emphasis on altering the practices and processes of state government that a genuine effort would entail. It ended in almost balancing the current fiscal year budget but leaving a substantial gap for the next because he refused to investigate seriously spending reductions, kicking the can down the road to his discredit.

Should the Republican-controlled Legislature come up with legislation that facilitates trimming state government – the deficit amounts to about three percent of total spending – Edwards will suffer a complete rout in his first half-year in office. Supposing he gets his wish to keep inflated government by having tax increases enacted in another special session, still he takes a political hit for both instigating higher taxes and lacking the leadership to reduce the drama produced by the necessity of a last-minute reprieve when he could have gotten the job done the first time.

Despite their disagreements on fiscal policy, if believing his campaign rhetoric then Edwards and Republicans share pro-life views on the issue of abortion. Several bills present themselves on this subject that he can get behind where his articulated assent would guarantee they reach his desk.

HB 386 by state Rep. Frank Hoffman would extend the waiting period to undergo an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. That extra time causes no impairment to accessing the gruesome but legal practice. HB 488 by Rep. Katrina Jackson would require the doctors performing these to have board certification in obstetrics/gynecology or family medicine, an extraordinarily reasonable standard. These bills surely would not raise a ruckus with a policy-maker who claims he opposed abortion.

But HB 606 by Hoffman, SB 264 by state Sen. Fred Mills, and HB 889 by state Rep. Alan Seabaugh will challenge Edwards’ relationship with his liberal allies. To varying degrees these would prohibit any taxpayer dollars going to organizations that commit abortions, even though the specific dollars received would not fund directly the practice.

Critics of abortion have noted correctly that, by paying for other activities of these entities, taxpayers indirectly subsidize abortion. Quite possibly the removal of those funds would end up making continuance of the offering noneconomic, frustrating the ideological desires of supporters of abortion on demand.

Ironically, abortion opponents probably never would have filed such legislation that could shut the doors of an organization like Planned Parenthood had Edwards not achieved his upset victory. A conservative Republican governor would have drawn all sorts of flak from the political left, creating pressure to derail these. Yet Edwards may need to give vigorous public support to these kinds of issues specifically to distract from his fiscal policy failures to date and more generally to shore up his social conservative credentials for reelection purposes.

Thus these bills force a double quandary onto leftists: Edwards must decide whether to support these bills and potentially draw the ire of his liberal cohort, and they must decide whether by criticizing him over a supportive attitude on these they erode his political capital to pursue other aspects of their agenda where they and Edwards have no possibility of dispute. If they end up in conflict, that could contribute to his losing reelection and eliminate any hope of getting most if not all of their agenda translated into public policy.

These also force Edwards to put his money where his mouth is. Should any reach his desk, and it seems likely at least one would make it, anything other than his signing any survivor of the legislative process into law opens him up to charges of campaign hypocrisy, damaging his electability.

So these bills present a no-lose situation for social conservatives: either they register an important policy success or expose Edwards as a fraud. It leaves him with a difficult political decision that could compound his lackluster performance in office to date.

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