Government & Politics

Missouri lawmakers moving ahead with tougher restrictions on abortion

Josh Hawley is the first vocally anti-abortion Missouri attorney general in 24 years. One legislative proposal would give the attorney general the ability to enforce state abortion laws, an authority now limited to local prosecutors.
Josh Hawley is the first vocally anti-abortion Missouri attorney general in 24 years. One legislative proposal would give the attorney general the ability to enforce state abortion laws, an authority now limited to local prosecutors.

A decision by a federal judge to rescind some laws restricting abortions in Missouri had Planned Parenthood advocates celebrating last week — but Republicans aren’t going down without a fight.

A handful of bills making their way through the legislature aim to make it more difficult for women to get an abortion in Missouri, ranging from new inspection standards for abortion clinics to new parental notification requirements.

These legislative efforts are set against a promise by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to maintain the state’s abortion restrictions by continuing to fight last week’s court decision.

Hawley is the first vocally anti-abortion Missouri attorney general in 24 years. And one of the legislative proposals this year would give the attorney general the ability to enforce state abortion laws.

Under current law, local prosecutors are the only officials who can bring suit against those who fail to follow the state’s abortion regulations.

Samuel Lee, a lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri, said that in more liberal pockets of the state, such as Kansas City and St. Louis, those who break abortion laws often are not prosecuted.

“The legislature can pass a bill, the governor can sign it, it can be challenged in court and defended and upheld,” Lee said. “But unless a local prosecutor or somebody enforces the laws, it doesn’t make any difference.”

State Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis County Democrat, said that while she’s overjoyed by the district court ruling, she thinks new abortion bills are adding new layers of obstacles for women trying to access their right to an abortion.

“In many ways Planned Parenthood has been on the defense and women’s rights have been under attack,” Schupp said. “Advocates are on the defense.”

And while the court decision is a victory for Schupp and other abortion rights advocates, Lee said he wouldn’t be surprised if the decision was overturned in the future.

“It has been fairly common for state abortion regulations that were challenged to be struck down at the federal district court levels,” Lee said. “And to (later) have those decisions in whole or in part enforced at the 8th Circuit level and sometimes at the United States Supreme Court.”

That’s true. At different times higher courts have overturned district court decisions in Missouri relating to use of Medicaid funding for abortions, parental consent for abortions, and several other abortion-related measures.

Which is why Schupp thinks it’s important to prevent any additional abortion restrictions from becoming law.

She opposes giving Hawley additional prosecuting power. Schupp said Hawley’s continued fight against abortion might put women’s lives at risk.

“I’m really disappointed that (Hawley) is going to spend taxpayer dollars and time and resources doing that,” Schupp said. “I think that he is getting in the way of a political decision and I think that it’s an abuse of his power.”

Hawley’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The additional prosecuting powers for the Missouri attorney general’s office are included in a wide-ranging abortion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles County Republican. Its main focus is new regulations on the disposal of fetal tissue after an abortion.

Under Onder’s bill, all fetal tissue would be submitted to a pathologist who would create a report on all tissues received. The bill also would enforce significantly higher regulations for hospitals and surgical centers performing abortions.

“Fetal organ harvesting by abortion clinics and trafficking by various middlemen is a lucrative and grisly business that some at the highest level of the abortion industry have engaged in,” Onder said during floor debate.

Current law requires that a representative sample of tissue be submitted to a pathologist after a reported abortion. But this bill would require that all tissue be submitted.

The bill also would make it a requirement that all centers performing abortion be annually inspected at an unannounced date and time.

“We need to regularly inspect clinics in the interest of health and safety of women,” Onder said. “And yet in eight of the past 14 years, no inspections were performed.”

But Alison Drieth of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri said legislation like this isn’t about protecting women’s health, but outlawing abortion.

“It’s a targeted legislation for abortion providers,” Dreith said. “The anti-choice community feels that it’s an easy way, with more burdensome regulations, where they could find abortion providers to slip up and that they could ultimately shut clinics down.”

Rep. Diane Franklin, a Camdenton Republican, is sponsoring a House version of Onder’s bill.

She said it would ensure fetal tissues are not trafficked or sold illegally throughout the state by more strictly monitoring pathology reports.

Currently, Franklin said, not all reports are accurately accounted for.

“That just opens the door for mismanagement, mishap and misplacement of fetal remains,” Franklin said. “I think (the bill) provides a peace of mind, if the object is, according to federal law, that these will not be sold for profit.”

The U.S. District Court decision last week struck down measures requiring that doctors have hospital admitting privileges and that facilities meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. It came after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down nearly identical abortion restrictions in Texas last year.

After last week’s court decision, Planned Parenthood announced it would begin offering abortion services in four of its clinics across the state — in Kansas City, Joplin, Springfield and Columbia.

Currently, abortions are performed only in Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic.

Franklin called Planned Parenthood’s plans to expand abortion services a “poke in the eye for Missouri.”

But Dreith said the court decision won’t be enough if other regulations are put in place this session.

“It’s a real shame that the legislature, many of whom are proponents of these measures, claim to be small-government fiscal conservatives,” Dreith said, “when they routinely enact unconstitutional legislation to put the government between a woman and her doctor.”