Abortion is still legal in the state of Louisiana — but scrolling through Twitter, you might not know it.
When Cassidy Clark, a college senior and abortion rights activist, logged online Tuesday night, she searched for “Louisiana Amendment 1.” She wanted to see how people were reacting to the news that the state’s down-ballot measure on abortion had passed by a wide margin, with 62 percent of the vote.
What she found was a lot of confusion.
Louisiana’s amendment will add new language to the state constitution, specifying that abortion is not a right. For now, it will change little about abortion access in the state: Women will be able to get abortions as they did before, with no additional restrictions. But the purpose of the new amendment is to lay groundwork for the future. If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the measure will provide additional protections to ensure abortion would be illegal in Louisiana.
Some of those details were missed on Tuesday night, as a portion of voters across the state were left thinking their state had just outlawed abortion.
“I understand why they would think that,” said Clark, who handles canvassing and digital organization for the New Orleans Abortion Fund. “When you hear, ‘We don’t have the right to abortion,’ as a normal, nonlegal person you’re like, ‘Okay, it’s banned.’ ”
This type of amendment, which had previously passed in Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia, is extremely “confusing,” multiple Louisiana voters said. That confusion may have been compounded by other events in the news. On a night when President Trump and other antiabortion Republicans consistently outperformed their polls — a few weeks after the Supreme Court shifted certifiably to the right — people are “scared.”
“They know Trump is anti-choice, and there is so much uncertainty,” Clark said.
Organizing students at Louisiana State University, junior Keiyada Sanford says she was often asked to explain what the amendment actually meant. After it passed, she says, many of those questions flooded in through social media.
“It was worded in a way that was extremely confusing,” said Sanford. “The first time I heard it I had to reread three separate times.”
Angie Thomas, associate director of Louisiana Right to Life blames abortion rights groups like the New Orleans Abortion Fund for the confusion, saying they encouraged the idea that the amendment was actually a ban on abortion.
Steffani Bangel, executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, denies this. “We stand by our campaign messaging,” she said, “which describes this amendment as a ban on the right to abortion.”
“The amount of misinformation was so unfortunate,” said Thomas, who is hoping to see many other states push for similar constitutional amendments in future elections. “Now they are scared for something they don’t even need to be scared of.”
Louisiana was already one of 10 states with a “trigger law,” which would automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade falls. With this constitutional amendment, antiabortion advocates were eager to “add an extra hedge of protection,” said Thomas, strengthening an abortion ban against any potential legal challenge that may arise from the left. In a “post-Roe world,” Thomas says, the courts should not be able to undermine the will of the Louisiana state legislature.
Louisiana is known for pushing restrictive measures on abortion. Throughout the state, there are only three clinics. In addition to the state’s dozens of TRAP laws, or targeted regulations on abortion providers, a Louisiana law that would have required abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
Raelynn Harvey, a 24-year-old business administration student, tries to pay close attention to the abortion restrictions in her home state of Louisiana. While most of her family is antiabortion and staunch Trump supporters, she says, she supports abortion rights. But when she read through the constitutional amendment online — in preparation for her trip to the polls — she wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“I chalked it down to, ‘if you’re pro-life, vote yes,’ and ‘if you’re pro-choice, vote no.’”
Harvey voted against the measure, she says, but she’s still not entirely sure what she voted for — and what’s different now that the amendment has passed.
“I am honestly not too sure if it’s legal. I know they were trying to make it illegal,” Harvey said. “It’s super unclear.”
This kind of misunderstanding can be “dangerous,” said Sanford: If women in Louisiana believe the procedure is now illegal, they’ll likely be deterred from seeking abortion services. They might try to travel to another state, she said, or give up on trying to obtain an abortion altogether.
In reality, the abortion landscape in Louisiana doesn’t look too different from the way it looked yesterday, said Sanford. The state’s three clinics haven’t become any harder to access. This amendment was about “laying the groundwork” for the future, she said.
Clark isn’t sure what’s next for abortion rights in Louisiana. She says she tries her best to stay optimistic. But living in a staunchly antiabortion state — and relying on a Supreme Court that looks well-positioned to overturn Roe v. Wade — it can be hard to stay hopeful.
“I just wish we could get a win,” she says.
“It’s about to get scary.”