Government & Politics

‘Draconian,’ ‘malicious’: KC leaders slam Missouri abortion bill but civic groups mum

How abortion access would vary without Roe v. Wade

Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
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Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Elected leaders in Kansas City blasted the Missouri General Assembly Thursday for its pursuit of legislation that effectively outlaws abortion, while civic organizations in town stayed quiet on the matter.

The Missouri Senate overnight passed legislation that outlaws abortion eight weeks into a pregnancy, often sooner than a woman knows she is pregnant. The measure allows abortion after eight weeks only in instances where the mother’s life is at risk, but does not otherwise contain exemptions for pregnancies that result from rape, incest or human trafficking.

The House is expected to take up the bill Friday. Gov. Mike Parson (R) has signaled he will sign the measure in the likelihood it hits his desk.

If so, Missouri will join Alabama and Georgia in passing the nation’s most highly restrictive abortion legislation. Anti-abortion activists are girding for legal challenges that could once again bring the issue to the United States Supreme Court. Conservative justices now occupy five of nine seats and activists see recent state measures on abortion as a chance to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that protects a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James upbraided the Missouri General Assembly, where both chambers have Republican super-majorities, for pushing what he called a “dangerous” policy.

“Although this legislature has failed to take any positive steps to address the real and everyday problems of women and children, they have decided that they know more about women’s healthcare than women and their doctors,” James said in a statement to The Star. “This move is dangerous, relegates women to second-class status, and shows how little women and children are valued by some politicians in this state. To say that a culture of life means treating women as second-class citizens is insulting, draconian and just plain wrong.”

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a former Missouri state Senator who is running for mayor, juxtaposed the Missouri General Assembly’s resistance to Medicaid expansion— which would increase access to health care— while working through the night on the abortion measure.

“To spend legislative resources on these issues really shows me the priorities of the legislature are really not in synch with the people in Missouri,” Justus said.

Councilman Quinton Lucas, a lecturer at the KU School of Law who is running against Justus in the mayoral race, called the bill unconstitutional.

“I am disappointed the State Senate followed the lead of Alabama by passing a bill that’s unconstitutional, unwise and unfair to Missouri women,” Lucas said. “The bill’s absence of exceptions for rape and incest is malicious.”

Lucas lauded Kansas City-area Democrats in the legislature who voted against the abortion law, including state Sens. Kiki Curls and Lauren Arthur.

“I’d hope that all organizations that work each day to sell Missouri for business, travel, and cultural opportunities encourage the General Assembly to reject this bill and not align our state with Alabama,” Lucas said.

A spokeswoman for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce said the organization’s board did not have a position on the legislation. Marc Hill, president of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, also said the organization had no position.

“The Chamber and the Civic Council and anybody that is economic development in Jackson County or Kansas City should be extremely concerned about this,” said Crystal Williams, a Jackson County legislator. “It is an extreme piece of legislation that is likely to make the Governor’s desk.”

Justus said she does not know yet whether Missouri’s abortion legislation could affect Missouri’s — and Kansas City’s — image across the country in terms of pursuing businesses and young professionals.

“To me, that is secondary to the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of people without access to health care, we know we have bridges falling down and highways not being repaired,” Justus said. “Instead of taking up the hard work to fix these problems, they did this.”

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.