The Missouri House on Tuesday bundled nearly every significant anti-abortion law proposed this session into one bill and gave it tentative approval.
The measure, which Speaker Elijah Haahr called “the strongest pro-life bill in the country,” will almost certainly be given final passage later this week.
The House’s action culminated a circuitous, occasionally bizarre, often deeply-personal and impassioned afternoon of debate. Republicans used the “heartbeat” bill, which bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be heard, as the vehicle for a series of additional restrictions that each drew vigorous objections from Democrats. Republicans had already been extremely active this session proposing and advancing anti-abortion legislation, and it now appears their hopes will lie in this bill, House Bill 126.
Members on both sides of the aisle told stories from their lives — of sexual assault, of growing up with a disability, of the heartbreak that would have come if a granddaughter had been aborted. At one point, several hours in, Rep. Ben Baker, R-Newton County, told a lengthy parable about Michelangelo’s David being etched into a block of marble to symbolize the potential of an unborn child.
He was met with repeated complaints from Democrats about going off topic. One representative recited Dr. Seuss back at Baker to satirize his speech.
The House voted several times to stifle discussion on various amendments and pass them without delay, until finally they did so for the original bill and voted for it 110 to 37.
The heartbeat bill expanded through the afternoon to accommodate provisions declaring “that God is the author of life” and further limitations on abortion. They include requiring that both parents be notified before a minor’s abortion; banning abortions on the basis of race, sex or whether or not the baby has down syndrome, and establishing a so-called “trigger clause” that would completely ban abortion, except in the case of a medical emergency, if Missouri if Roe v Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield and Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, each told personal stories about how abortion restrictions can place domestic violence victims at further risk.
Quade said she was sexually abused by her father as a child and that she would have been in danger if she’d been pregnant and had to reach back out to him.
“I see nowhere in your bill for people like me whose parents still have that custodial situation,” she said. “Gentlemen, what would I have done?”
Ingles, a former child abuse investigator, condemned one of the amendments for failing to consider victims of rape or incest who become pregnant.
“What kind of safeguards do we have for women in these incredibly traumatic situations? They may seem few and far between for you, but I’ve sat in their living rooms,” she said.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, introduced the amendment prohibiting abortions because of down syndrome. He said the law would fit in the tradition of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX and the Americans with Disability Act by extending legal protections to a group of people who had previously been vulnerable.
Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, who has said abortion is the holocaust of our times, said the fundamental issue came down to one question: “What is this thing in a woman’s body?”
“I believe the answer is that it’s a human,” he said. “I believe when we’re talking about a human life, how barbaric is it to consider snuffing out a human life before it has a chance to breathe on its own?”
In a statement released late Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson (R) voiced his support for the House measure.
“ I’m honored to lead a state with so many people committed to standing up for those without a voice,” Parson said. “I applaud the bipartisan efforts of the Missouri House of Representatives for choosing to take a bold stand to protect women’s health and the right to life.”