Government & Politics

Missouri House sends sweeping anti-abortion bill to Senate; Democrats vow filibuster

Both sides in the abortion debate protested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 31st annual March for Life in Washington last summer.
Both sides in the abortion debate protested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 31st annual March for Life in Washington last summer.

Nearly every significant anti-abortion law proposed in Missouri this year has been bundled together into one bill and overwhelmingly approved by the Missouri House, moving the debate to the Senate where Democrats have vowed to filibuster.

The measure, which House Speaker Elijah Haahr called “the strongest pro-life bill in the country,” was passed 117-39 on Wednesday. Three Democrats — Rory Rowland of Independence, Joe Runions of Grandview and Steve Butz of St. Louis — joined with 114 Republicans in support of the measure.

The bill faces a major fight in the Senate, where Democrats are in the minority by a 24-10 margin but prepared to filibuster.

“Oh hell yeah,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, in an interview earlier this month.

The House’s action culminated two days of circuitous, occasionally bizarre, often deeply-personal and impassioned 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 into the debate on Tuesday, 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 heartbeat bill was expanded 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 Tuesday about how abortion restrictions can place domestic violence victims at further risk.

Quade said she was sexually abused by her biological 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 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.”

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Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.