Government & Politics

Sweeping Missouri abortion ban headed for passage in House and Gov. Parson’s signature

The Missouri House is expected Friday to pass and send to Gov. Mike Parson the sweeping anti-abortion bill that would ban procedure after eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Parson has said he will sign the measure, the latest in a series of near-total bans on abortion recently passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures.

The bill cleared the Missouri Senate by a 24-10 vote in the early hours of Thursday morning. It originated in the House, where it passed overwhelmingly in February. Though some changes were made in the Senate, the House sponsor, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said he saw nothing that would keep members from voting in favor one more time on the final day of the 2019 session.

“I can’t see anybody peeling back their support where they were in support of it before,” Schroer said Thursday evening.

The major provision that was dropped on the Senate side would have banned abortions if a fetal heartbeat was detected prior to 8 weeks.

State Rep. Barbara Washington said the bill was unacceptable to almost all of the Democrats in the Missouri House and called it “atrocious.”

“If this bill had some exceptions, it would probably get some more Democrat votes,” Washington, D-Kansas City, said. “But when you are not considering the mother, not considering the long-term effects of forcing someone to have a child - sometimes people don’t even know they are having a child before 8 weeks.”

A day before the Missouri Senate vote, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that bars virtually all abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia and Mississippi, have banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be heard.

The intent is that one or more of these laws will draw a challenge to return the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists hope a new conservative majority will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision affirming a woman’s right to an abortion without undue government interference.

The bill would criminalize any abortion beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergencies. Doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks face five to 15 years in prison. There is no punishment for the mother.

The measure also establishes criminal penalties for abortions sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

As a fail-safe, if the eight-week ban is thrown out by the courts, the bill also bars abortion after 20 weeks. Under this provision, if there is a medical emergency during the third trimester, physicians must attempt to save the child.

The bill also doubles the amount of medical malpractice insurance an abortion provider is required to have. Physicians who perform medication abortions must have something called “tail insurance,” which continues to cover them after they’ve retired or changed employers.

Lastly, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Missouri law would automatically ban all abortions.

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

Missouri already has highly restrictive abortion laws. Only one clinic -- Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis -- offers the procedure.

Missouri law currently requires that doctors must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals before they can perform abortions. Because of that, there is only one facility in Missouri that is licensed to perform abortions — a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

A woman seeking an abortion must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from following through. The doctor performing the abortion, not social workers or nurse practitioners, must provide the counseling. She must then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided.

After the Senate vote, abortion rights advocates condemned the bill.

“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.”

If the bill becomes law, Missouri women will still have options. Services are available just a few miles away from downtown St. Louis at a pair of facilities in Illinois — a Planned Parenthood clinic in Belleville, Ill., and Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill.

The laws in that state aren’t as restrictive. Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has vowed to make the state “the most progressive in the nation for access to reproductive health care.”

There are no providers on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro. But abortion services are available at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park.

Last month the Kansas Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the state constitution protects abortion rights, a landmark decision that clears the way for legal challenges to a host of abortion restrictions.

“Planned Parenthood is committed to its mission of providing high-quality healthcare,” Mead said. “They are going to figure out ways for their patients seeking healthcare to access it, and if they can’t get it in Missouri, they can try to access it in neighboring states.”

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.”

Vockrodt reported from Kansas City.

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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.
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.