The battle for abortion rights between conservative states and their liberal cities has claimed another victim after Louisiana state officials delayed storm relief to New Orleans even as the city faced flood advisory and forecasts of an above-average hurricane season.
At the urging of Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, the state’s bond commission voted 7-6 on Thursday to temporarily block a $39 million line of credit to the city for a flood-fighting power plant. in an area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, until the Democratic mayor and Democratic council revoke vows to defy the state’s new abortion ban. All who voted to defer funding were Republicans or their proxies, although some Republicans on the committee voted not to defer.
“New Orleans officials have taken an oath of office to support and enforce the laws of our state, but they have decided that some laws are not worth enforcing,” Landry said in a statement to Facebook. “condemns the open resistance of the city”. of the will of the people of Louisiana” and called the vote, “another step to ensure that the parishes and congregations of our state comply with the laws of our state.” Landry’s office declined further comment Friday, instead emphasizing his earlier comments.
Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell remained defiant.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the attorney general’s fabricated crisis, who has again delayed funding for critical infrastructure in the midst of hurricane season,” Cantrell said in a statement. “I will continue to prioritize necessary improvements to our city’s aging infrastructure as I fight for the reproductive rights of all women.”
After the Supreme Court was overturned Roe v. WadeLouisiana has issued one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans: banning abortion after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape and incest; only allow the procedure when a pregnant person’s life is in danger. Opponents have legally challenged the measure, which was passed in 2006 pending the Supreme Court’s ruling. It was initially blocked in court, but was eventually allowed to go into effect last month.
When legal challenges failed and the state’s three abortion clinics announced plans to close and relocate out of state, the New Orleans mayor, city council, sheriff and district attorney pledged to oppose the ban. The city council passed a resolution instructing officials — including police and prosecutors — not to use city funds to enforce it. The New Orleans Police Department instructed officers not to issue subpoenas or make arrests under the law. Similar actions have been taken by other Democratic cities in predominantly Republican states.
“Equal access to abortion care is essential to social and economic equality and reproductive autonomy,” the council resolution said, highlighting its “commitment to protecting the rights of its residents to make decisions about reproductive health, including abortion care.”
Landry — who is considered a likely candidate for next year’s governorship — said he viewed the council’s action as a direct challenge to state authority. He is a member of the committee, and when they first considered financing the city’s flood funds last month, his plenipotentiary opposed it, delaying a vote.
During Thursday’s meeting, Landry issued an ultimatum to the New Orleans City Council: maintain the ban or stop flood aid.
“If they want this project to go ahead, you have to withdraw the resolution,” Landry said.
Governor John Bel Edwards, an anti-abortion Democrat, had supported the city’s flood financing and his representatives on the board voted in favor.
“The idea of trying to punish all the people who live in a certain area because you disagree with some of their elected officials is not a reasonable approach,” Edwards said when the vote was postponed last month.
On Thursday, Edwards’ executive counsel, Matthew Block, appeared on his behalf as a member of the committee and argued: for the vote that the city’s position was questionable because it lacks the authority to prosecute those who violate the ban and the state’s abortion clinics were closed.
“There are currently no abortions being performed in Louisiana, let alone Orleans Parish,” Block said. “So this idea that because statements have been made and a resolution passed that, somehow in the future, maybe the law won’t be enforced — it’s not happening now.”
Block said the legislature would have to decide whether city projects receive state funding, as it had when approving the New Orleans officials’ request for flood relief, not the bond commission.
State Senator Bret Allain, a Republican serving on the committee, told members it was “problematic” for the state council to attack New Orleans for its abortion stance.
But Landry disagreed, saying, “We shouldn’t delay the opportunity to put the tools at our disposal to get them on track.”
Jimmy Harris, a New Orleans Democratic state senator serving as a nominee on the committee, told its members the funding would help protect about 384,000 people. Harris said he had just received a text about a storm underway that led to a flood advisory for the city.
“We are working on that. That’s what this particular project is trying to help us, where we don’t have to drown,” Harris said.
The historic peak of hurricane season is in mid-September, with the busiest part from late August through mid-October. A given season has an average of 14 named storms, half potential hurricanes, but this year forecasters have predicted 14 to 20 named storms, including: six to ten hurricanes.
Paul Rainwater, a Republican lobbyist for the city of New Orleans, advised Landry and other members of his party during Thursday’s meeting not to link the fight against abortion with flooding in New Orleans. Rainwater was part of the Republican administration’s response and recovery to Bobby Jindal after Hurricane Katrina, which killed nearly 2,000 people. He reminded the committee that New Orleans represents 25 percent of the state’s economy, home to iconic sites such as the Superdome, the National World War II Museum and Audubon Park.
Rainwater said the city’s latest flood control project would update power supplies for pumps that provide drinking water and sewer drainage during storms. If funded, the project was on track to be completed in 2024.
“The situation that the city has been through every hurricane season is a little stressful because you’re constantly testing the turbines,” Rainwater said after the vote. “These are not things that are not essential.”
Rainwater said he plans to bring the matter before the committee when they meet on Sept. 15.
“It’s not like they’ve ignored the law – there’s no law that’s been broken. The municipality has spoken out,” he says. “The city has a very strong opinion about that.”
It was not immediately clear whether New Orleans officials would be invited to appear at next month’s committee meeting.
City Council president Helena Moreno condemned the committee’s vote and asked committee members to meet with her. She referred to reports of a Baton Rouge woman who refused an abortion last month after doctors discovered that her fetus was missing part of its skull and was unlikely to survive.
“It is disappointing to see the lack of compassion for women facing these horrific and painful circumstances,” Moreno said in a statement. “The fact that the City of New Orleans is being punished for carefully considering new state laws is disturbing and inappropriate. The delayed project is a vital flood protection initiative to save lives, property and businesses in our city.”
Cantrell, the city’s first female mayor, gained political support to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina. She said she and other city officials plan to continue to pressure the committee to approve state funding for the project. But she said withdrawing her stance against the abortion ban was not an option.
“I am hopeful that they will do the right thing,” she said on Friday. “Our utility is in dire need of an upgrade. It is over a hundred years old. It has not been able to keep up with the changing climate.”
Similar clashes may arise in other states where Democratic city leaders have resisted new abortion bans championed by Republican state leaders. In neighboring Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit last month to prevent the Biden administration from forcing doctors and hospitals to perform abortions or lose federal funding, but he has yet to challenge cities that have taken measures that would into the state ban.
In addition, Austin city officials voted last month to “decriminalize” abortion, redirecting the city’s budget to prosecute other crimes. The San Antonio City Council passed a similar resolution this month.
Dozens of prosecutors across the country — including at least five in Texas representing some of the state’s most populous counties — have vowed not to bring charges against those seeking or providing abortions.
In response, Texas lawmakers are drafting a new law they plan to propose when the legislature meets in January that would “allow district attorneys from across the state to prosecute abortion-related crimes … when the local prosecutor does not or refuses to do so,” wrote Rep. Mayes Middleton, chairman of the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus.
In Missouri, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed a bill to spend $1 million in federal relief funds to support access to abortions after roe was overthrown. Hours later, the state’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed suit to block the new law, making a statement calling the law “blatantly illegal.”