Filed Under:  Politics

Coalition seeks Sen. Landrieu’s support for abortion ban, clinic halt

24th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Less than 24 hours after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, the leaders of the Pro-Life movement in the Greater New Orleans area gathered at Emeril’s in the Warehouse District to plot their strategy. They wish to convince U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu not only to vote for the bill, but help sway her fellow Democrats to support cloture.

The fact that roughly half of that room were African-American as well as card-carrying registered Democrats displays how the emotional issue of abortion access cuts across racial and partisan lines here in Louisiana.

The majority of those attendees had joined Pastor Fred Luter Jr at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in a rally to support the bill—and to protest the proposed new Planned Parenthood facility on Claiborne Avenue. Luter, currently president of the Southern Baptist Con­vention, and Rev. Antoine Barriere of Household of Faith Church, among those in attendance, have been supporters of Sen. Landrieu in the past. Their passion on this issue demonstrates the political difficulty the Senator faces balancing parts of her pro-life African-American base with her pro-choice backers as she seeks re-election in 2014.

Benjamin Clapper, Executive Director of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation and one of the organizers of the gathering at Emeril’s, confirmed that the activists’ resolve, and warned against any attempt to oppose the House legislation as its moves through the Senate. In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, he said, “We hope Senator Landrieu will not only vote in favor of H.R. 1797, but write a public letter to Senate President Harry Reid asking him to make the legislation a priority. The people of Louisiana overwhelmingly support a ban on late-term abortion, and we need Senator Landrieu to work for us to make sure this legislation sees a vote on the Senate floor.”

It is their hope that the trial and conviction last month of a Philadelphia doctor for murdering .three born alive-infants may have moved the conversation in the pro-life direction. “After the revelation of the crimes of Kermit Gosnell, I think many people across the nation began to question the moral difference between what Gosnell did outside the womb and what happens every day in abortion facilities across America. People that once held fast to the concept of abortion on demand now are uncomfortable with late-term abortion, indicated by the polling data showing the support of legislation similar to H.R. 1797.”

The legislation, of course, needs 60 votes in the U,S, Senate to avoid a filibuster.

“The importance of the value of human life is a commitment present in the African-American community in Louisiana. Unfor­tunately, the issue of abortion has not been traditionally discussed at length in the Black community, producing a lack of visible action on the issue. However, we are seeing a resurgence of energy on abortion, especially as it relates to Planned Parenthood’s plans to build a facility that performs abortion on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. Numerous churches and leaders have joined the Nola Needs Peace Coalition, such as Pastor Fred Luter Jr, Senior Pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, Pastor Emmanuel Smith at Israelite Baptist Church, and Pastor Antoine Barriere at Household of Faith. These leaders understand that violence is violence, whether it is in the streets or in the womb.”

Planned Parenthood has maintained a clinic in Uptown New Orleans for over two decades, and several across Louisiana. Yet, the pro-life opposition to their construction of a massive facility near Napoleon Ave. has more to do with the fact, he said, that “for over 20 years, Planned Parenthood has never performed abortions in Louisiana.”

“Now, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast plans to build a 7,000 square foot facility on Claiborne Avenue that will perform abortions. We expect this facility will dramatically increase the number of abortions in New Orleans. With all the violence in our city, we do not need to add more abortion to the scenario. New Orleans needs peace, not more abortion.”

Politically, Clapper’s Black-white, Republican-Democratic coalition believes that the path to stopping the Claiborne facility from opening has to do with investigations of diversion of federal dollars in other states. As he pointed out, “The Louisiana legislature, after passing two resolutions this session, is asking the various local and state agencies to investigate the alleged Medicaid fraud by former employees of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Planned Parenthood has consistently misused public funds, and through this investigation, we hope to freeze or at least reduce the medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. These funds are critical for their operation in Louisiana and their absence could slow their progress on Claiborne Avenue.”

Pro-life activists have petitioned Mitch Landrieu to stop the construction of the new PP facility, but the Mayor of New Orleans said “his hands were tied,” saying that he had no power to either delay or accelerate construction permitting under the law as currently written or Supreme Court precedent.

Advocates of the clinic, including District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, maintain that the expanded space will provide greater access to woman’s health and family planning services.

This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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