Pro-life legislation recently passed in the American state of Louisiana could be a model for drafting legislation in Australian states.
On July 6, 2011, the groundbreaking pro-life “Signs of Hope” Bill HB 636 was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal and is now in development at the Louisiana department of health.
Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel for the a pro-life legal organisation, the Bioethics Defense Fund (BDF), helped draft the unique legislation which requires the prominent display of 40 cm x 50 cm Women’s Right to Know signs, featuring a web address that converts to a mobile format when it is accessed by an iPhone or any mobile device.
Photo caption: Cindy Collins (left), with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Bordlee says: “Women today get the majority of their information via mobile technology. This [Signs of Hope] Act is designed to supplement the booklets required by Women’s Right to Know laws so that women can use their mobile phones or laptops to view photos and videos of the unborn child, information about abortion risks and adoption services, and resources to obtain free ultrasound and prenatal care.”
The law requires the URL, in addition to being listed on the signs, to be posted on the home page of abortion clinic websites and must be given to anyone scheduling an appointment for an abortion. This legislation will also provide help and referrals to women and minor girls, in crisis, and who are sexually exploited.
While several states in the U.S. require signs to warn women in abortion clinics that they cannot be coerced, the BDF’s Signs of Hope Act provides additional information to help women choose life. The signs, which must be posted in abortion clinic waiting areas and patient rooms, inform women about basic rights and resources.
The exact text on the signs is specified in the BDF-drafted legislation, and requires a full colour design by Louisiana’s department of health. Because the bill was part of the governor’s legislative package, Louisiana Health Secretary Bruce Greenstein testified in favour of HB 636 in both legislative committees. His department is now designing the signs and abortion alternatives website, which is required to be published by November 6, 2011.
The Bioethics Defense Fund commended both Republican Rep. Frank Hoffmann, who authored the new law, and the Louisiana Right to Life Federation which promoted the bill as its flagship legislation.
According to Dorinda Bordlee, the bill was dubbed the Signs of Hope Act in committee testimony in both the state house and senate by Cindy Collins, the director of a centre that counsels post-abortive women, who said the signs in abortion clinics would be “signs of hope” to women who often feel hopeless and coerced due to a perceived lack of alternatives.
Planned Parenthood of Louisiana opposed the bill, claiming that the signs were “offensive”! In response to perplexed questions by committee members, who asked how information about rights and resources could be considered offensive, the Planned Parenthood representative said that women already know this information and it is therefore condescending.
The Planned Parenthood representative had a difficult time distinguishing information required on cigarette cartons and informed consent requirements for other elective procedures. Both the Louisiana house and senate disagreed, approving the bill by overwhelming margins.
Nikolas T. Nikas, BDF president and general counsel, said: “We encourage state legislators and policy leaders to contact our legislative department to get a copy of the model bill and complementary legal support. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states have a strong interest in promoting childbirth over abortion, and the Signs of Hope Act uses modern technology to do just that.”
The BDF reports that at least 25 states in America have Women’s Right to Know laws requiring informed consent information and reflection periods. Nikas said each of those states should consider amendments to include “signs of hope” requirements.
(Cindy Collins, who has represented Endeavour Forum as an observer at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings in New York, will be speaking at Melbourne’s March for the Babies rally on October 8. Endeavour Forum is sponsoring talks by her in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane).
Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.
Dorinda C. Bordlee, “Signs of Hope legislation: Woman’s Right to Know signs with website/smartphone resources”, Bioethics Defense Fund (BDF): Law in the Service of Life.