Government & Politics

Missouri poised to join Alabama, Georgia as state senate passes near-total abortion ban

The Missouri Senate voted early Thursday to ban abortions eight weeks into pregnancy, even in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking, with criminal penalties for non-complying doctors that could send them to prison for up to 15 years.

The measure, passed 24-10 by the Republican supermajority after day-and-night-long negotiations, places Missouri in the vanguard of states including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky that have passed some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws. It also serves as another possible legal vehicle to challenge the landmark Roe v Wade case before a newly conservative Supreme Court.

The bill has a “trigger” provision banning abortion completely if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, which established a woman’s right to the procedure without undue government interference. It also contains redundant restrictions that would remain in effect if the two-month threshold were thrown out by the courts, as has happened in other states.

The bill will now need one more vote in the House, where it passed in February and is all but certain to be approved again. It will then go to Gov. Mike Parson for his signature.

“My administration will execute the laws the legislature passes and this pro-life administration will not back down,” Parson told reporters Wednesday evening.

Missouri already has highly restrictive abortion laws. Only one clinic -- Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis -- offers the procedure. The organization immediately condemned the Senate vote.

“Politicians are putting the health and lives of Missouri women at risk in their race to make our state the one that overturns Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court,” M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said in a statement.These bans on safe, legal abortion will have real costs — expensive legal costs and human costs for the women and families who need reproductive health care.”

Emotions ran raw through the long night as the bill went through 16 versions in negotiations between Senate Republican leaders, conservatives in their party, and the Democratic minority.

“Together we stand as one to defend the unborn and it’s a subject we care deeply about,” Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden told reporters after the vote, choking back tears.

Sen. Bob Onder was the lone Republican who publicly voiced his displeasure with the final bill. From the floor, he yelled, “We should be ashamed at ourselves of what we are doing today.”

“This should be entitled not the ‘Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,’ but the ‘Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act Sort of Kind Of,’” said Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis.

In an interview, he said among other “subtle” changes, the substitute bill weakened the two-parent notification requirement. Only if parents are divorced and have joint custody would the second parent need to informed their child was to have an abortion. The requirement of having two doctors present for the procedure after 20 weeks was pushed back to the third trimester, he added.

“Those taken together are big changes,” Onder said.

One of the key negotiators for Senate Democrats, Sen. Jill Schupp, said the revisions were marginal.

“House Bill 126 is still an extreme and egregious piece of legislation that puts women’s lives at risk,” Schupp, D-St. Louis County, said in a news conference after the bill’s passage. “Make no mistake about it, this is a sad day for Missouri women and families.”

Democrats began discussing abortion on the Senate floor Wednesday morning in preparation to filibuster.

“I would characterize this bill as extreme. This language four years ago would have been unthinkable, but elections have consequences,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, at the onset of discussion. “And with new Supreme Court justices there’s a new attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, and with that there is a push in this legislature to pass what I would characterize as very extreme legislation.”

Behind the scenes, the Democrats, led by Schupp and Arthur, and Republican leadership negotiated to bring the bill to a point where the Democrats would allow it to the floor. Any action to force a vote over a Democratic filibuster would have effectively killed all pending legislation as Democrats, in retribution, most likely would have taken steps to slow down Senate proceedings with procedural maneuvering.

A deal was finally struck just after 3 a.m. Thursday. Democrats still hated the bill and voted no, leaving the vote tally at 24-10 along party lines, but they didn’t attempt to block it.

The bill makes exceptions only for “medical emergencies.” Women impregnated through rape or incest or because they were victims of human trafficking are not covered. This was a sticking point for Democrats, but the fight was futile.

“The truth is there are 10 of us and 24 of them and our numbers matter,” Schupp said. “The only way we are going to stop terrible legislation like this is to elect more Democrats.”

However, even on an issue they all agreed on, the divide within the Senate Republican Caucus was on full display Wednesday evening.

Initially, it looked like negotiations by GOP leadership would be upended by the Senate Conservative Caucus, a group of six members who have banded together repeatedly to block legislation.

While bipartisan negotiations were taking place in Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz’s third floor office, Onder was at an event with the governor in his second floor Capitol office denouncing any attempts to alter the bill.

Late Wednesday, Onder, surrounded by anti-abortion leaders and Conservative Caucus members, held a press conference asking Schatz to forgo negotiations.

“We believe the second violent act does not fix a violent act,” Onder, a Conservative Caucus member, said, of exemptions for rape and incest. “We don’t believe in the death penalty for the crime of the father of the baby.”

The intra-Republican spat wasn’t the week’s first. From Monday into Tuesday, the Conservative Caucus coordinated a 27-hour filibuster to shut down the Senate and prevent passage of workforce incentives and tax breaks to entice General Motors to invest $1 billion in its Wentzville plant. The bill was a priority of Gov. Parson.

“We were told there was no compromise,” said. Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican. “No compromise on incentives for economic development, however when we come to a bill that deals with the sanctity of life, all we are told is, ‘We need to compromise. We need to compromise. We need to compromise.’ The time to compromise is over. It’s time to go back into session and take a vote.”

As the meeting of Senate Republicans dragged on, the hallway outside the meeting room filled with anti-abortion activists, hoping to pressure Senate leadership.

Bev Ehlen publicly posted earlier in the evening the cell phone numbers of Schatz and Rowden, encouraging followers to flood them with messages demanding that they not compromise.

Schatz emerged from the room, saying that the Caucus wasn’t all on the same page but passing the bill was never in doubt.

“People that are standing in this hallway, people outside the building don’t understand the process,” Schatz said. “They don’t sit in these positions. So the impatience because this hasn’t happened yet — we are the senators and we make the decisions.”

As Schatz walked to Democrat Minority Leader Gina Walsh’s office for more discussion, he spotted Ehlen.

“Never come to my office,” Schatz angrily said to Ehlen, as he walked past.

“Take it like a man,” Ehlen called out to Schatz’s back.

Schatz turned around and got in Ehlen’s face: “That is so amateur for you to put my cell number out there.”

Shortly after, Schatz circled back to Ehlen to more congenially defend his negotiations with Democrats and remind her of his consistent pro-life stance.

The Missouri Legislature is required to adjourn by 6 p.m. Friday.

Though a truce has been achieved between the two parties, Onder, who has filibustered bills he didn’t like, noted his unhappiness.

When asked if he would allow the Missouri Senate to move forward with other measures, he replied, “I’ll have to think about that.”

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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.
Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.