BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. Buddy Roemer today vetoed what would have been the nation's toughest state abortion law, a measure thrown together in the final days of a tumultuous session of the Louisiana Legislature.
"I vetoed this bill because it does not meet even the minimum standards set forth by me long ago," Roemer said, reading from a statement.
Roemer has long insisted that any anti-abortion bill must contain exceptions for rape and incest. The rape exception in the bill he vetoed was not strong enough, he said.
A leading abortion opponent immediately said he would seek a special session to override the governor.
Roemer said that he had supported much of the bill but that rape "is treated unevenly and unsatisfactorily."
The bill would have had doctors who perform abortions face sentences of up to 10 years at hard labor and fines of up to $100,000. It was designed to pave the way for a court case to challenge the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Nancy Myers, spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee, said Roemer "betrayed the pro-life majority that elected him. Gov. Roemer has abandoned thousands of unborn children."
She accused him of using "phony excuses to hide the fact that he doesn't care at all for unborn children."
But Joy Gilmore, president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, called Roemer's decision "rational and reasonable" and said it "sends a clear and distinctive message that the power of the pro-choice majority cannot be denied."
Lawmakers put the bill together July 8, the day before the session ended, by amending anti-abortion language onto an unrelated anti-flag-burning bill. They did so after failing by three votes to override Roemer's veto of an even tougher anti-abortion bill passed earlier in the session.
Roemer said he had vetoed the first bill because it lacked exceptions for rape or incest.
Even before announcing his veto of the second bill today, Roemer had complained that the new measure would have required rape victims, in order to gain permission for an abortion, to report the crime and seek medical treatment to prevent conception within seven days of the rape.
The bill's opponents also noted that it did not allow abortions of pregnancies resulting from "simple rape," defined in Louisiana law as sexual intercourse when a woman is incapable of resisting--for instance, if she is intoxicated.
Roemer repeated today that he considers himself an abortion opponent, adding, "Abortion on demand and as a substitute for birth control must be, in the name of the unborn, sharply controlled." But, he said, most citizens he talked to around the state agreed with him that "some common-sense, decent exceptions should be made."