Government & Politics

Missouri House approves near-total abortion ban, sends it to governor for signature

As onlookers in the gallery shed tears, some in elation, some in disgust, the Missouri House voted 110 to 44 Friday to ban abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape and incest.

The measure, the most restrictive in Missouri’s recent history, is on its way to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk for final approval.

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.

Emotions continued to run high as the measure headed for passage. Opponents chanted “when you lie, people die“ before being escorted out of the gallery.

House Republicans argued the bill protected the unborn and gave a “voice for the voiceless.”

“We are a pro-life state, and we are here to prove it,” state Rep. Sonya Anderson, R-Springfield, said.

The bill has been a priority for the Missouri Legislature. House Speaker Elijah Haahr choked up when urging members to vote for the bill, saying their vote would be remembered by their children and grandchildren.

“I will vote yes on this bill and that vote will follow me for the rest of my life,” Haahr said. “And it will be the proudest vote I have ever taken.”

The vote was largely along party lines. State Rep. Joe Runions, D-Grandview, voted in favor and state Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, voted “present.”

One anti-abortion Republican voted against the bill because there were no exceptions for rape or incest.

“(My constituents) think this is going too far,” Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said.

Without those exceptions, the bill was not “pro-quality of life,” opponents countered.

“Life is more than breath,” state Rep. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said.

They also noted the bill wasn’t banning abortions, but banning access to a safe, legal abortion.

“Bleach. Acid. Bitter concoction. Knitting needles. Bicycle spokes. Ballpoint pens. Jumping from the top of the stairs or roof — these are ways women around the world who don’t have access to legal abortion perform their own,” state Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Webster Groves, said. “Abortion is a health care issue.”

The bill passed the Missouri Senate early Thursday, after more than 24 hours of continuous negotiations between Senate Democrats and the Republican super majority. That day anti-abortion activists flooded the Capitol, trying to get lawmakers to halt talks with Democrats and bring the bill up for a vote immediately.

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 goal of the legislation was not to overturn Roe v. Wade, bill sponsor Rep. Nick Schroer said.

“However, if and when that fight comes, we will be fully ready,” Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said.

As a fail-safe, if the eight-week ban is thrown out by the courts, the bill also bars abortion after 14 weeks, 18 weeks and then 20 weeks. Under this provision, if there is a medical emergency during the third trimester, physicians must attempt to save the child.

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.

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.

It also expands a tax credit for pregnancy resource centers, family planning entities that discourage abortions. Those who donate to the centers will be reimbursed by the state for up to 70 percent of their contribution, higher than the previous 50 percent rate. The bill eliminated the cap on the tax credit, though its current $2.5 million ceiling has never been reached.

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.

Parson has been an enthusiastic supporter of the bill and he has until July 14 to sign it.

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

The Missouri chapter of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists urged Parson to veto the bill.

“HB 126 would force clinicians to decide between their patient’s needs and facing criminal proceedings,” the group said in a statement. “All clinicians must be able to practice medicine that is informed by their years of medical education, training, experience, and the available evidence, freely and without threat of criminal punishment.”

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

Those who seek abortions often visit clinics right across the Missouri border. Hope Clinic, in Granite City, Ill., has a billboard welcoming travelers from Missouri to Illinois, saying it’s where they can “have a safe, legal abortion.”

“Our doors remain open for any patient who needs abortion care,” Dr. Erin King, Hope Clinic’s executive director, said in a statement condemning the bill. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that further barriers like expenses associated with seeking this care such as traveling long distances, time off from work, and childcare are lessened to the best of our ability.”

The nearest clinic that offers abortion in the Kansas City metro area is in Overland Park, Kan.

Related stories from Kansas City Star