Government & Politics

Greitens calls special session for Missouri lawmakers to focus on abortion

Gov. Eric Greitens is calling Missouri lawmakers back to the Capitol on Monday to debate protections for religious anti-abortion organizations and enact new regulations for abortion providers.

In a Facebook video released Wednesday afternoon, Greitens said the session would focus on “protecting pregnancy resource centers and proposals for common-sense health and safety standards in abortion clinics.”

“I’m pro-life,” he said, “and I believe that we need to defend life and promote a culture of life here in the state of Missouri.”

The first portion of Greitens’ agenda for the special session is to repeal a St. Louis ordinance that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had an abortion, use contraceptives or are pregnant.

Opponents of the ordinance say it infringes on the religious rights of pregnancy resource centers, which are faith-based, anti-abortion organizations that provide free services to women who want to carry their pregnancies to term.

Centers in Missouri are eligible to be reimbursed for some expenses from a state fund called the Alternative to Abortion program. Contributors to the centers can receive a state tax credit for donations.

“Municipalities should not be attempting to thwart constitutionally guaranteed liberties,” said Dr. John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

But critics of pregnancy resource centers, which are also known as crisis pregnancy centers, contend they often pose as medical clinics while providing inaccurate information designed to scare women away from having an abortion, most notably that abortion is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and that abortion can lead to mental-health disorders.

“Our hard-earned tax dollars should be going toward programs that alleviate poverty and feed hungry children, and not to support unregulated (crisis pregnancy centers) that lie to people seeking abortion care,” said Pamela Merritt, co-director of the abortion rights group Reproaction.

Greitens is also pushing lawmakers to enact new regulations on abortion providers in Missouri.

A recent court ruling halted a state law requiring hospital admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions and mandating clinics that provide abortions to 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 June, 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 it would begin providing abortion services in four Missouri locations.

Currently, the only Missouri clinic performing abortions is in St. Louis.

Greitens said the court ruling “weakened our state’s health standards in abortion clinics.” Exactly what regulations he’s hoping to put in place were not made clear in his announcement.

Allison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said the decision to bring lawmakers back to the Capitol to deal with these issues “is an appalling example of out-of-touch priorities.

“Make no mistake about it,” she said, “the intent behind the governor’s actions is to shame women for their personal medical decisions and make basic reproductive health care harder to access.”

This is the second special session that Greitens has called since lawmakers adjourned for the year in May. The 163-member Missouri House estimates special legislative sessions cost $50,000 to $100,000 a week, depending on how often the full chamber meets. The 33-member Senate, with one vacancy, estimates a $28,000 a week cost to taxpayers.

These costs reflect lawmakers’ daily per diem, mileage to and from the Capitol and costs of supporting session-only staff.