BATON ROUGE — Louisiana's Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban abortions beyond 15 weeks, which would put the state on par with the most restrictive abortion laws in the country if passed.
"This recognizes the right of the state after 15 weeks to protect the lives of the unborn," said Senate Bill 181 author Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport. "This is a great step forward."
The vote was 31-3.
An amendment by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, would prevent the bill from becoming law until a federal judge rules on a similar new law in Mississippi.
Mississippi enacted a 15-week abortion ban in March, which was immediately challenged by the state's only abortion clinic. A federal judge there has put the Mississippi law on hold.
"I'm on the same page with (Milkovich), but this amendment keeps us from spending money litigating this issue," Martiny said.
Milkovich preferred not to wait, saying, "It will cost money to do it my way and I think the babies are worth the money," he said.
Louisiana currently prohibits abortions after 20 weeks.
Martiny's amendment also ensures that Louisiana could decide to ban all abortions if there is ever a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturns the landmark Roe versus Wade case that legalized abortion.
"We know abortions past 15 weeks are brutal," Milkovich said. "They don't just kill the baby; they torture (the baby). If we can save 20, 50, 100 babies, it's worth it."
Martiny said 95 percent of abortions are performed before 15 weeks, "so we're really dealing with 5 percent of the abortions," he said.
Abortion rights advocates criticized the bill during its committee hearing earlier this month.
Amy Irvin of the New Orleans Abortion Fund called the legislation a "cruel and dangerous bill" during testimony in Judiciary C.
"Louisianans deserve better from the lawmakers who represent us," she said.
The bill now moves to the House for debate.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1