Editorials

Editorial: Is the ghost of anti-abortion crusader Phill Kline going to haunt Missouri?

Are you ready for the return of Phill Kline?

That’s exactly what Missouri could get should the House this week pass a sweeping abortion measure that would, among other things, require annual health inspections of clinics. The bill is the focus of the year’s second special session called by Gov. Eric Greitens.

This unnecessary bill does something else, too: The measure carves out a special exception for this one issue when it comes to law enforcement. The legislation gives the attorney general, now Josh Hawley, an ardent abortion opponent who is said to have higher political aspirations, the power to prosecute violations of abortion laws. He could step in whenever local prosecutors opt not to act.

Think about the potential impact of that. The onus of cracking down on abortion in Missouri would shift from where it has traditionally been and where it should be, which is in the hands of local prosecutors who best understand their jurisdictions. Abortion regulations would then become something of a shared responsibility with the state’s top law enforcement official.

If local prosecutors don’t act, the anti-abortion crowd will expect — no, make that demand — that the attorney general step in. The new measure essentially would force the attorney general to make abortion a top agenda item.

This is pure power politics. Missouri already has some of the toughest abortion laws in the nation. The state, for instance, is one of only five that require women to wait 72 hours after receiving counseling before undergoing an abortion. And that 72 hours is the nation’s longest waiting period, according to the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute.

As of now in Missouri, abortions are performed only in St. Louis, a base of the Democratic Party in the state. Democratic prosecutors there often favor abortion rights. Giving the attorney general additional power is one more way for the anti-abortion crowd to undermine the procedure.

Kansas suffered through four years of Phill Kline’s relentless crusade against abortion when he served as that state’s attorney general from 2003 to 2007. Kline whipped up a frenzy of court cases, charges, accusations and dubious claims before voters ran him off in his 2006 re-election bid.

Kline received just 41 percent of the vote in that race in a staunchly Republican state, and one that is generally anti-abortion. He then turned around and won an appointment to Johnson County district attorney. When Kline sought to win a full term for that job, voters again said “no” and elected Steve Howe in the 2008 GOP primary with 60 percent of the vote.

In short, Kline was basically run out of the state on a rail. Nobody is begging him to come back.

Now Missouri is looking at the same possibility. Hawley, a Republican, has said he didn’t ask for the added authority, but he supports the proposal.

On Monday, he told The Star’s editorial board that he believes the bill provides a sensible approach to abortion regulation. The new authority provides a “fail safe” mechanism, he said. If local prosecutors don’t act, the attorney general can.

Once again, abortion would be the exception. Mark our words: This threatens to turn Hawley into another Phill Kline and will further politicize an already ridiculously political issue.

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