Government & Politics

Missouri House members vote to tighten abortion restrictions, citing fetal pain

Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted in favor of a bill banning abortions when a fetus can feel pain.
Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted in favor of a bill banning abortions when a fetus can feel pain. File photo

If a pregnant woman's fetus can feel pain, she shouldn't be able to obtain an abortion unless it presents a risk to her health and safety, Missouri House members decided Tuesday.

A bill barring abortions after a fetus is capable of feeling pain sailed through the House on a 117-31 vote. Pregnancies deemed dangerous after the fetus is capable of feeling pain would be permissible if two doctors sign off, but Missouri House members want women's doctors to perform whatever procedure gives the fetus the best chance of survival.

Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said that's a Caesarian section, not an abortion.

Missouri already bans abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, but the bill would tighten that window to 20 weeks.

"If the baby survives, that's wonderful," Lichtenegger said. "If the baby does die, at least it died with dignity, and you can give a proper burial for that child."

Lichtenegger sponsored the bill, which would outlaw abortions for fetuses capable of feeling pain. She and supporters argued abortions create suffering for fetuses in later stages of gestation.

“What if we could hear the cry, the response to that pain? Would we still hold this callous view that this child is a choice, that this child has an anomaly and doesn’t deserve to breathe oxygen, to be held by their mother and father?” said Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton.

Some medical professionals, however, dispute claims that fetuses can feel pain and experience suffering at 18 or 20 weeks. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in January that 20-week-old fetuses cannot experience pain.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, slightly more than 1 percent of abortions are performed after 21 weeks.

Lichtenegger's bill had wide support in the House, and several other states have implemented the ban. Congress considered a similar measure, and it cleared the U.S. House of Representatives but did not make it out of the U.S. Senate.

Opponents of Lichtenegger's bill argued women should have the right to choose, particularly in the case of a child who might not survive or would need significant assistance.

Rep. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said her sister got pregnant as an unmarried college student and was told everything was progressing normally, but her baby was born unexpectedly at week 27.

"He couldn't see. He couldn't walk. He died at 19 months, and during that entire 19 months that he was alive, including six months where he was stuck in the hospital, where my sister needed Medicaid to help her, she was denied," Washington said.

Washington urged legislators to think about the cuts they've made to disabled services when they "take away the right to choose."

Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, said her sister-in-law received news that there was a complication with her pregnancy a week after a gender reveal party for her expected twin girls. She could have had one of the twin girls removed in the hopes of saving the other. Neither girl survived, but she was able to get pregnant again and have a son, Walker said.

“According to the provisions of this bill, they would not be provided the opportunity to make that decision," Walker said.

Lichtenegger's bill was criticized as "unconstitutional" by NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, an abortion rights group.

Executive director Alison Dreith referenced a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision. She called the bill "a maneuver by anti-choice lobbyists and our state Legislature for a bill like this to be taken up at the Supreme Court with the ultimate end game of overturning Roe v. Wade."

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