Closed-door negotiations produce abortion bill no Missouri legislator is happy with

Jun 15, 2017
Originally published on June 18, 2017 6:43 am

Republican lawmakers pushed an abortion bill through the Missouri Senate this week, but were unable to secure many of the provisions they wanted.

Democrats are happy with a watered-down bill, but unhappy with having to deal with another attempt to further restrict access to abortion and that it came during a special legislative session.

The Senate sent the House a scaled-back bill early Thursday morning after Republican and Democratic negotiators spent roughly 14 hours behind closed doors hammering out a compromise version that could get through the upper chamber without being blocked by a filibuster. Among the major changes:

  • Missouri's attorney general would still have jurisdiction to prosecute abortion law violations, but only if local prosecutors first refuse to act.
  • All tissues from an abortion would have to be sent to a pathologist within five business days, instead of 24 hours as in the original bill.

The proposal also gained a new chief sponsor: Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester. The consensus among some Republicans was that an original bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, took a hard-line approach that would have guaranteed a filibuster and risked a forced vote that could shut down the Senate.

"I think [my bill] was a stronger, better bill," Onder said. "We could have done better, but again, I think [Koenig's bill] is a strong step in the right direction."

That said, Onder hopes the House restores the provisions the Senate removed.

"The bill passed [Wednesday] contained only about, I would say, only about half the items in the governor's call, while [my] bill contained all the items," he said.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, led negotiations for the Democrats.

"I think both sides walked away not extremely happy, and I think that's always what happens when there are controversial bills," she said. "It's a sign of a good compromise and negotiation."

But Schupp and the rest of the Democrats still voted "no."

The two proposals favored by Gov. Eric Greitens that negotiators removed are a measure that would have required abortion clinics to have plans to deal with complications that may arise during a procedure, and another that would have made interfering with medical assistance a crime.

"If a woman needs help, abortion clinics shouldn't be able to tell an ambulance to come slowly — to not use their lights and sirens — or to go around to the back gate, just because they are worried that an ambulance arriving might make their abortion clinic look bad," Greitens said in a news release.

The bill would still require annual, unannounced inspections of  clinics that provide abortions, and would reverse a St. Louis ordinance designed to protect women from job and housing discrimination based on their reproductive health choices, two major priorities of the governor and Republican legislative leaders.

It's unknown at this point what House leaders will do. Calls to the primary sponsors of that chamber's abortion bills were not returned Thursday, nor was a request for comment made to Greitens' office. But it's possible the agreement giving the attorney general the right to intervene in local cases to ensure state abortion laws are enforced — if local prosecutors first refuse to act — could be in jeopardy.

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel with the national Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group, said Missouri's measure giving the attorney general "original" jurisdiction "seems to be an unprecedented bill."

The special legislative resumes next week when House members return to Jefferson City.

Of note

On Thursday, Greitens signed the lone bill passed during the first special session this year, which allows the Public Service Commission to negotiate with Ameren Missouri for a lower electricity rate in order to reopen a shuttered smelting plant in the Bootheel region and to build a steel mill nearby.

Greitens announced the bill signing in a video posted to his Facebook page.

Jo Mannies contributed to this story.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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