New abortion regulations headed to Missouri governor, ending 2nd special session

Jul 26, 2017
Originally published on July 25, 2017 6:25 pm

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Physicians will have to meet with women seeking abortions three days before the procedure and Missouri’s attorney general will have the ability to enforce abortion laws under the bill headed to Gov. Eric Greitens on Tuesday.

The 22-9 vote, which came after a Democratic filibuster, ended the second, prolonged special session of the summer. Supporters say the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, will make clinics safer, while critics contend it will make it harder for women to obtain abortions.

Greitens is expected to sign the measure. He has not ruled out calling more special sessions, though senators from both parties, including the chamber's Republican leader, indicated they’re growing wary of the legislative extra time in part because some have other jobs. And it’s been a pricey summer: The special sessions combined cost taxpayers more than $151,000.

Among other things, Koenig’s bill authorizes the state’s attorney general to overrule local prosecutors when it comes to abortion laws. It also requires annual, unannounced state inspections of abortion clinics; bars clinics from asking ambulances to silence their sirens or turn their lights off; mandates that pathologists do more tests of fetal tissue; and orders the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to report to the General Assembly how clinics are conducting abortions.

In addition, abortion-clinic staff can no longer be the ones meeting with a patient 72 hours before a procedure; it must be a doctor. 

"Requiring a doctor to meet the 72-hour waiting period is something that's common sense. It's common medical practice to do that," Koenig said after the bill passed.

Plus, pregnancy resource centers, which discourage women from having abortions, would be exempted from a St. Louis ordinance barring discrimination over reproductive choices. That was specifically championed by Greitens earlier this summer.

"Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state. I'm proud that many of Missouri's lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women's health," he said in a short statement.

The governor and many Republican senators preferred a version of Koenig’s bill the House passed at the beginning of the special session in June, saying it was more strict than the bill the Senate first approved.

All of this came after a federal judge knocked down some of the state’s abortion laws in April, including one requiring doctors to be able to admit patients to a hospital. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs wrote that the laws created unconstitutional barriers for women to access abortion clinics.

“We need to restore common sense health and safety standards to Missouri abortion clinics,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis.

But Democrats like Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said it wasn’t about safety, but rather reducing women’s access to abortion and putting "women's health in jeopardy in some cases in certain provisions of the bill."

  Koenig admitted last week on St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking podcast that the bill could make it more difficult for Planned Parenthood to open clinics across the state, especially if doctors who perform abortions have to talk with patients ahead of time. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic is currently its only facility that performs abortions, but the agency is preparing to open clinics in Joplin, Kansas City and Springfield and reopen one in Columbia.

M'Evie Mead with Planned Parenthood said Tuesday in a statement: "The notion that this session has any benefit for patients' health and safety is nonsense."

Rocky path to passage

Both days of debate exposed sources of conflict among the two parties. Democrats, Schupp included, were furious Koenig wanted the House version of his bill, contending he went back on an agreement on the compromise agreed to earlier in the special session.

Koenig disagreed with that assessment Tuesday. “Maybe sometime that commitment is made, but it wasn’t made in this instance,” he said.”

That perceived promise is one of the reasons the GOP majority had to use a procedural maneuver called the “previous question” to end Tuesday’s Democratic filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the GOP caucus didn’t have much of a choice — the House had little interest in negotiating.

Democratic Sen. Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors criticized the forced end to the filibuster, saying it ran afoul of Senate tradition.

"Government should have checks and balances, and today's action moves the Senate one step closer to a rubber-stamp body that takes its orders from [Greitens] rather than the state of Missouri," Walsh said.

When it comes to the attorney general provision, Republicans and Democrats expressed misgivings. Kansas City Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey, who voted against the bill, said it could backfire should voters elect an AG who supports abortion rights. "I did not come down here to create bad policy because it's a good issue," he said Monday.

Some St. Louis-area lawmakers didn’t like how Republicans targeted the anti-discrimination ordinance, especially in the wake of barring cities from raising the minimum wage. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said it’s another example of micromanagement.

There was common ground on one issue: Senators don't want to return for another special session. When asked if Greitens would bring the legislature back for a third time, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin replied: "I hope not."

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jo Mannies contributed to this report.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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