The Missouri Senate will return to the state Capitol on Monday to debate a wide-ranging bill that would impose new regulations on abortion providers.
It’s been six weeks since Gov. Eric Greitens called state lawmakers back into session to focus on abortion. The bill up for debate Monday is just one vote away from the governor’s desk. Yet division among Republican lawmakers, coupled with Democratic opposition, has left the bill’s fate up in the air.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, a St. Louis County Republican sponsoring the legislation, told St. Louis Public Radio that his bill simply would enact “common-sense health and safety measures that already exist in the medical field today.”
Among the new regulations in the bill:
▪ Doctors, not social workers or nurse practitioners, would be required to explain any potential medical risks to women seeking an abortion, 72 hours before the procedure.
▪ Annual, unannounced inspections of abortion clinics by the state health department would be mandatory.
▪ Abortion clinic staff who ask that ambulances responding to medical emergencies at the facilities not use sirens or flashing lights could be charged with a misdemeanor.
▪ Pathologists who provide services to abortion clinics would face new requirements.
▪ New whistleblower protection for employees of abortion clinics would be enacted.
In addition, the bill would give the Missouri attorney general’s office new powers to prosecute violations of abortion law. Under current law, that power is limited to local prosecutors.
The bill also would ban local governments from enacting or enforcing any ordinance that “adversely affects” alternative-to-abortion agencies and pregnancy resource centers, which typically are faith-based, anti-abortion organizations that provide free services to women who want to carry their pregnancies to term.
Greitens called the special session in part as a response to a recent federal court ruling that halted a Missouri law requiring hospital admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions. The law also mandated that clinics that provide abortions meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers.
The law was similar to one in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last summer after it sharply reduced the number of abortion providers there.
After the court ruling, Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri announced they would begin providing abortion services in four Missouri locations: Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin and Springfield.
Currently, the only Missouri clinic performing abortions is in St. Louis.
Koenig told St. Louis Public Radio that his legislation could put a stop to Planned Parenthood’s expansion plans in Missouri. He pointed to the provision requiring that doctors be present 72 hours before an abortion to explain medical risks.
“I think it’s likely to stop” Planned Parenthood’s expansion, he said. “If they are going to have their doctors in St. Louis travel to Columbia or Springfield, the regulations could stop them from opening clinics unless they can get other doctors to perform abortions.”
Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, agreed.
“If this bill goes into effect,” she said, “there is a real risk of Missouri continuing to have only one abortion clinic.”
Koenig has made it clear he supports passing the legislation as is and sending it to the governor. Greitens supports that plan. Others have suggested that because the House and Senate versions aren’t identical, the legislation should be sent to a conference committee to work out differences.
Approving the bill in the Senate might also require procedural maneuvers to cut off debate, should Democrats stage a filibuster to block a vote. As legislative leaders weighed potential avenues forward, summer scheduling issues — including one senator’s wedding — slowed progress.
As they return Monday to decide the fate of the legislation, Dreith said the stakes are high.
“They’re trying to put more restrictions on providers so that they are unable to provide abortions,” she said. “Then the burden falls on the woman seeking services.”