Residents speak in favor of the council's resolution to urge public agencies not to spend funds on investigating or charging abortions as a woman holds a "Black Lives Matter" sign.

The New Orleans City Council approved a non-binding resolution on Thursday urging several city agencies not to use public funds to investigate reports of abortion — in hopes that city and parish agencies will effectively decriminalize the procedure in New Orleans — as state laws threaten to make it a crime.

The resolution comes two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision overturning Roe v. Wade, repealing the constitutional right to abortion. The decision allowed Louisiana’s so-called “trigger laws” to go into affect, barring both surgical and medication abortions in virtually all cases. The laws call for up to 15 years in prison — depending on the gestational age of a fetus — for anyone performing abortion. 

But a temporary restraining order issued June 27 by Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarusso, in a lawsuit filed by a Shreveport clinic against Attorney General Jeff Landry and the Louisiana Department of Health, have allowed the state’s three abortion clinics to resume providing services. 

How long that reprieve will last, however, is in question as the matter returns to court on Friday. A civil court judge could decide whether that temporary restraining order will become a preliminary injunction, providing further protection from prosecution for abortions. 

Councilwoman Helena Moreno introduced the resolution Thursday, noting New Orleans was among a group of Democratic-leaning cities, like Atlanta and Austin, in red states that are having to work creatively to protect abortion rights. She said the council’s resolution mirrors a recent one passed in Austin.

“We had known these state laws would be dangerous and would put women’s lives in danger,” she said. “In the city of New Orleans we have real issues of crime. Policing women and their doctors is in no way going to be our priority.”

The resolution asks that city funds directed to the New Orleans Police Department, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, and District Attorney’s Office “not be used to solicit, catalog, report, or investigate reports of abortion.”

The resolution also asks that those offices adopt similar policies. District Attorney Jason Williams has signed onto a letter with prosecuters nationwide promising to “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”

“We need bold actions from our federal partners,” Moreno said.

Moreno specifically asked for funding to provide Plan B, an emergency contraceptive known as the morning-after pill that is not banned under the trigger laws, so medical providers could distribute it for free. 

She also asked the government to ensure “FDA-approved medications can be mailed to Louisianans,” apparently referring to mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used to induce an abortion. Administering those drugs is prohibited under the trigger laws. And the state has also approved a law that seeks to ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe them from out-of-state and send them through the mail to Louisiana. President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to try to preserve patients’ access to the drugs in states where abortion is now or soon will be banned. 

“The state has not historically been good to people of color. But let’s be honest, it has not been kind to women or members of the LGBTQ community,” she said. 

Moreno also read a statement from councilwoman Lesli Harris who was absent due to illness. 

Harris called the trigger law “shameful.” 

“We won’t be finished until we have our autonomy back,” the statement said. 

Councilmembers Oliver Thomas, Eugene Green and Joe Giarrusso also spoke in favor of the resolution. All seven members sponsored the resolution, though Harris was absent for the meeting and Councilman Freddie King was absent for the council comment period and the vote on the resolution. 

“It would certainly be a waste of law enforcement’s resources to get involved in criminalizing a woman’s right to choose,” Green said. 

Giarrusso pointed to statistics that show women of color are more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy related issues. 

“We have created a state … where you have doctors that are going to have to make the conscious decision to break the law to save a woman on the table,” Morrell said. 

Michelle Erenberg, co-executive director of LIFT Louisiana was one of the first to speak in public comment. In addition to women’s safety, she emphasized the problems the state’s ban could cause for providers.

“The fear that medical providers are going to be living under, that they would not be able to intervene in the way their best medical judgment would indicate, or to do something they know needs to be done to protect the life or improve the health of the person in front of them,” she said.

Moreno said the council received a record-number of online public comments — more than 900 — which she said would take hours to read. Moreno directed council staff to read 20 minutes of online comments. 

After roughly 40 minutes of online and in-person public comment, the vast majority of which favored passing the resolution, the council voted 5-0 to approve the resolution. King was not present at the dais for the vote.

The resolution calls the state’s trigger laws a “direct attack” on individuals and expressly affirmed the council’s “commitment to protecting the rights of its residents to make reproductive health decisions, including abortion care.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...