Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday that he is ready to sign his state’s Senate Bill 184, which will ban abortions performed after six weeks. The legislation is being referred to as the “heartbeat bill,” as ultrasounds can pick up a fetus’ heartbeat at the 6-week mark of a pregnancy.
Edwards, a Democrat, is breaking with his party’s stance that promotes abortion rights. This is the latest state to propose pro-life legislation, following restrictions in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia and Ohio, as well as a near-ban in Alabama with felony punishments.
Edwards said in a statement that his “position hasn’t changed. In eight years in the Legislature, I was a pro-life legislator.” He credits his political stance on his experience with his daughter Samantha. His wife Donna was 20 weeks pregnant with their future daughter when a doctor discovered Samantha had spina bifida.
While abortion was encouraged, they decided to keep her. Not only is she living a healthy life as a working, married woman, but she is the driving force behind Gov. Edward’s abortion policy. Here’s what you need to know about her.
1. Edwards’ Catholic, Pro-Life Beliefs Led to the Family’s Decision on Samantha
According to an interview Gov. Edwards had with CatholicPhilly.com in 2016, the doctor who discovered Samantha’s spina bifida at 20 weeks strongly tried to push for abortion. The doctor took Donna to a clinic that treated on children struggling with the condition.
“It was our belief that God has a purpose in everything and we would have this child,” he said. “I credit Donna, she is a very courageous person. Our daughter is now 24 years old…I cannot imagine what our life would be without her, and I tell this story with her permission.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Spina Bifida “is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly.” Complications from the condition range from walking and mobility problems to poor development of leg muscles to something as life-threatening as meningitis.
According to The Advocate, he is a “devout Roman Catholic” who attends St. Helena Catholic Church in Amite City (La.). While this explains his pro-life opinions, he also bucks with his religion on his pro-LGBT views.
2. He Released an Ad During His 2015 Gubernatorial Campaign Talking About Donna & His Decision
Gov. Edwards explained alongside Donna their experience dealing with Samantha’s potential abortion in a 2015 gubernatorial campaign ad.
“I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first child when the doctor discovered that she had spina bifida and encouraged me to have an abortion,” Donna said. “I was devastated – but, John Bel never flinched. He said, ‘No, no; we’re going to love this baby no matter what.’ And, at that moment, I watched the boy I fell in love with become the man I’m still in love with today.”
Edwards won the election by 12 points over Republican State Senator David Vittar. This wrested Republican control of the state after eight years of Gov. Bobby Jindal. This also occurred just a year after Republicans gained a majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Edwards said he had no concerns that the ad could be seen as exploiting his family.
“It’s not a concern because it was (Samantha’s) idea,” he said to News Star. “The people of Louisiana want to know about the candidates and their lives and this was a big part of ours. Voters have every right to know about this and I had no hesitation about sharing it as long as my daughter was comfortable doing so.”
3. Samantha Was Born in Hawaii When Gov. Edwards Was in the Army
According to NOLA, the Edwards moved to Hawaii for the Governor’s military service. He is a West Point graduate who completed Ranger School and served as an active duty Airborne Ranger for eight years.
Per the NOLA article, that’s where the Edwards made the decision about Samantha and where she was born. Her condition caused Donna to work primarily in public schools.
Their daughter’s illness is also one of the reasons Donna initially spent so much time in the public schools, eventually becoming a teacher. Samantha needed some assistance during the day as a child. So Donna was often coming and going from Amite Elementary. A couple of years before her third and youngest child went off to kindergarten, she enrolled in a teaching certification program so she could start teaching full-time.
4. Samantha Graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a Degree in School Counseling
The Advocate covered Samantha’s wedding in March 2016 to Jonathan Paul Ricau. Samantha and Jonathan met as students at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
“His dad was a principal, so he comes from a family of educators as well,” said Donna at the time. “Jonathan is a history major and teaches social studies, and Samantha is working on her master’s to be a school counselor.”
Samantha Ricau is now a school counselor for East Baton Rouge School System. According to LinkedIn, she currently works for The Dufrocq School. Her official degree is a Master’s of Science in Counselor Education/School Counseling and Guidance Services.
5. Samantha & Her Husband Jonathan Had Their Wedding Reception at the Governor’s Mansion
After she walked down the aisle at St. Helena’s to exchange vows, the reception shifted to the Governor’s mansion. The significance of her walking was not lost on Gov. Edwards.
“I’ll just tell you it will be one of the proudest days of my life to be able to walk her down the aisle,” the governor told reporters just days before the wedding. “While Donna was pregnant with Samantha, we had no idea if she would ever walk at all, because we knew that she had spina bifida. We had no idea how bad it might be.”
The mansion was “transformed” by Samantha’s paternal aunt Blair Edwards, a juvenile judge.
“The flowers were absolutely beautiful,” says Donna Edwards. “We did all the flower arrangements at the mansion. We went up to the third floor and got all the teapots and silver ice buckets we could find, cleaned them up and used them for the arrangements. The magnolias used to decorate the banister were from our yard in Amite. Everything for both the wedding and reception was done by people in our hometown and family.