Columbia Missourian: Senate members hear testimony on abortion-related bills

BY SKY CHADDE Jan 18, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY — State senators heard testimony on several bills Wednesday relating to abortion — or, as Republican State Sen. David Sater said, “pro-life bills.”

The bills would, among other things, clarify protection for clinics that offer alternatives to abortion, seek to ensure there would never be a black market for fetal tissue and prevent women from aborting a fetus based on sex, race or if the baby has Down syndrome — the constitutionality of which one senator said is being questioned in other states.

One bill, SB 67 sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, would mandate that no doctor could perform an abortion knowing the fetal tissue would be sold. Violating that mandate would be a class C felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The bill also would require unannounced facility inspections and require providers to send reports to the state on each abortion performed. Failure to comply with the new requirements would lead to suspending the facility’s license for at least a year.

In his testimony on Wednesday morning, Onder said the bill was in response to an undercover video of a Planned Parenthood clinic employee discussing the use of fetal tissue. The video has been criticized as deceptively edited, and investigations into the video in 13 states have led to no criminal charges, according to The Associated Press.

In 2015, the Missouri legislature convened a committee to investigate whether the actions described in the edited video were happening in this state.

“One question facing the committee last year was, ‘Is this happening here?'” Onder said. The committee found there were “discrepancies” in the state’s reporting practices of abortions, Onder said.

Sater, R-Cassville, said the committee found that “there was an openness there for misuse of fetal tissue. We need to tighten down that and make sure there’s no experimentation going on.”

During the hearing, no one provided examples of fetal tissue being sold in Missouri in such a way.

Calling the 2015 committee a “witch hunt,” Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, questioned the additional regulation, especially after Gov. Eric Greitens called for fewer regulations in his State of the State address Tuesday.

“This seems like we’re going backwards in our governor’s mission of deregulation,” she said.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, asked Onder whether his bill was only directed at the state’s single abortion clinic in St. Louis.

“We’re just singling out this one because it provides abortions?” Schupp asked.

“Well, yeah,” said Onder, adding that he had some safety concerns about the clinic.

Another bill — SB 41, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau — “acknowledges the rights of an alternatives-to-abortion agency … to freely assemble and to freely engage in religious practices without governmental interference.”

In her testimony, Sara Baker with the ACLU said the bill only reestablishes what is already in the First Amendment.

“The ACLU believes strongly in First Amendment rights,” she said, “but we do believe these rights are already established. … I don’t think we need this legislation.”

Chappelle-Nadal and Schupp — the only Democrats on the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee hearing the bills Wednesday — called the measure “super protection” for religious groups.

The bill would also allow such groups to seek legal relief, including reimbursement of financial damages in cases where the protections were violated.

Asked later if there were any incidents that made such a bill needed, Sater, the chairman of the committee hearing the bills, said he didn’t know of any.

“It’s just reassuring our First Amendment rights,” he said.

Testimony on the bill lasted more than an hour. “Thank you for letting me present a simple bill about the First Amendment,” Wallingford said.

The third bill, SB 96, would prevent women from aborting a baby based on race, sex or a diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, questioned whether the bill, sponsored by Sater, might be unconstitutional. Samuel Lee, a pro-life lobbyist with Campaign Life Missouri, told the senators a few states were having similar bills questioned in court.

“This has not been fully litigated,” Lee said. “We don’t know.”

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

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