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BATON ROUGE, April 25, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – On Tuesday, the Louisiana state Senate voted overwhelmingly to ban abortions on babies older than 15 weeks.

SB 181 cleared the chamber by a vote of 31-3. The bill would sentence any abortionist who commits an abortion beyond that date to a prison sentence of up to ten years and a fine between $10,000 and $100,000, though it expressly exempts the woman seeking the abortion from punishment.

The law does not contain an exception for babies conceived in rape. Abortions after 15 weeks would only be permitted when deemed necessary to save a woman’s life from physical danger.

“This is a great step forward to protect babies after 15 weeks,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, said.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, 97 percent of the state’s 2017 abortions took place before 15 weeks. 366 Louisiana babies were aborted at or later than 15 weeks in 2017.

Before the vote, Republican Sen. Danny Martiny added an amendment delaying the bill from taking effect until the courts uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed his state’s 15-week abortion ban in March, but a federal judge has blocked it from taking effect following a lawsuit by the pro-abortion Center of Reproductive Rights. That pro-abortion group filed the lawsuit on behalf of Women’s Health Organization (WHO) in Jackson, Mississippi's last abortion facility.

“I'm on the same page with [Milkovich],” Martiny explained, “but this amendment keeps us from spending money litigating this issue.” Milkovich acknowledged a legal fight would be costly, but maintained “the babies are worth the money.”

The New Orleans Abortion Fund’s Amy Irvin blasted SB 181 as “cruel and dangerous” during legislative testimony, but Milkovich maintains the real cruelty lies with the procedures it would stop.

“We know abortions past 15 weeks are brutal,” he said. “They don't just kill the baby; they torture [the baby]. If we can save 20, 50, 100 babies, it's worth it.”

Current Louisiana law stops most abortions at 20 weeks, as do 16 other states. If signed, SB 181 would make Louisiana tied with Mississippi as the state with the most protective pro-life laws.

The law now goes to the Louisiana House for consideration, which is likely to pass it as well. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, has said he “would be inclined to sign it if it hits my desk.”

Current judicial precedent says that abortion cannot be banned prior to fetal “viability,” and in 2014 the Supreme Court refused to consider the constitutionality of a 20-week ban in Arizona. However, the Life Legal Defense Foundation notes that the Supreme Court has also acknowledged a “compelling interest in protecting the unborn child” as pregnancy progresses.

As medicine progresses, “viability” becomes earlier and earlier in pregnancy.

It is unclear how the Supreme Court would rule on a 15-week ban. Although he has not specifically ruled on abortion cases or stated his position, it is widely assumed that the court’s latest justice, Neil Gorsuch, will reliably side with life. This would preserve the court’s narrow divide on abortion, with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting the deciding vote.

Kennedy’s record is generally pro-abortion, though he has expressed openness to some modest limits. Some observers speculate that medical evidence showing preborn babies can feel pain as early as 14 weeks will be key to getting Kennedy to reconsider the court’s viability threshold.

Rumors about Kennedy resigning have swirled since President Trump took office, but have never come to fruition.