St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Abortion measures advance in special session

JEFFERSON CITY • A package of proposals that will alter state abortion regulations advanced out of a Senate committee on Day Two of a special session ordered by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

Acting on the Republican governor’s call, the GOP-controlled Seniors, Families and Children Committee endorsed a plan Tuesday that would overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance put in place by St. Louis aldermen in February.

The local ordinance is designed to bar employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had abortions or plan to undergo one.

 

A second proposal would give the attorney general more power to prosecute violations of abortion-related laws. A third proposal, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, would tighten restrictions on clinics and what can be done with fetal tissue.

The legislation moved to the Republican-controlled Senate on a party line vote of 4-2.

The legislation could receive an initial vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday, with an eye on moving the proposals to the House where final action could come next week.

The special session focusing on abortion issues is the second one called by Greitens, who is in his first year as governor. Like the first special session, Greitens is planning a rally at the Capitol Wednesday to promote his agenda.

“This event will highlight the crucial and life-saving work of pregnancy care centers around the state and bring Missourians together to celebrate and promote a culture of life,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Abortion rights groups are staging a counter-rally Wednesday to highlight the cost of the special session to taxpayers. During testimony Tuesday, they dismissed the special session as a stunt.

“There are some real ways that the legislature could promote health and even reduce the need for abortion, but it would require women’s health to be viewed as something other than a political football,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician and gynecologist from St. Louis.

But abortion rights opponents said the changes are needed to regulate the controversial medical procedure.

For example, Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, said the legislation will ensure a process for the disposal of fetal remains.

“No couple should be concerned that after an abortion, their unborn child’s body parts were later indiscriminately dumped with other waste,” Lee said.

Abortion opponents are concerned about the expected expansion in the number of abortion clinics in Missouri in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that overturned some of the state’s abortion regulations.

Specifically, the court struck down a requirement that doctors have hospital admitting privileges and that facilities meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. It came after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down nearly identical abortion restrictions in Texas last year.

Planned Parenthood is planning to begin providing abortion services in Kansas City, Joplin, Springfield and Columbia. Currently, abortions are performed only at the organization’s St. Louis clinic.

Onder’s proposal would require all fetal tissue from an abortion to be submitted to a pathologist who would create a report on all tissues received. The legislation also would impose stricter regulations for hospitals and surgical centers performing abortions.

Sen. Andrew Koenig’s legislation focuses solely on giving the attorney general prosecutorial powers in abortion laws. The Republican from Manchester said the attorney general already has jurisdiction in the enforcement of other laws, including mining and dams and other environmental issues.

Supporters said the change is needed because some prosecutors may not be pursuing cases involving abortion regulations as aggressively as lawmakers would like.

“There’s legislative concern that those laws are not being enforced,” said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said the law is unneeded because a local prosecutor can already turn over a case to the attorney general.

“I’m not sure I understand the rationale for that,” said Schupp.

 

Sen. Bob Dixon’s proposal focuses solely on nullifying St. Louis’ ordinance.

He said it could require alternative-to-abortion agencies to hire people who disagree with their mission to prevent women from having abortions.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said the proposal was being heard by a legislative committee that had no St. Louis members.

“You’re basically telling St. Louis city what it can and can’t do,” Chappelle-Nadal said.

“St. Louis isn’t an island by itself. And we have a state constitution in the state of Missouri that covers every resident in our borders,” said Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau.

Lee said the Legislature has overrode local governments on a variety of issues, including firearms, ammunition, grocery bags and the minimum wage.

But opponents said the GOP-led Legislature should back off.

“It is wrong for the state government to take a one size fits all approach to governing,” said Alison Dreith, director of NARAL Pro Choice Missouri.

Chappelle-Nadal questioned whether the special session was needed at a time when Missourians are facing other significant issues. For example, she said the lack of action by lawmakers on cleaning up the contaminated West Lake Landfill in north St. Louis County could be considered an emergency.

“My residents are still being ignored,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “Where is the focus of our governor? Are you freaking kidding me?”

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