A state Senate committee heard three abortion measures in a special session called by Governor Eric Greitens Tuesday.
Conspicuously missing in the hearing was panel member Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. Schaaf has three bills he filed for the special session, all dealing with ethics.
The Senator has had a highly combative relationship with the freshman governor, as have a number of his legislative colleagues, partially over the governor’s refusal to disclose the origin of roughly $6 million in campaign donations over the course of his 2016 election.
Since ethics is not the stated reason Governor Greitens called the special session, it’s not certain how Schaaf will gain traction for his proposals.
Two of the three Senate bills that are related to the session’s stated purpose of abortion, contain largely the same language included in a third omnibus bill sponsored by Lake St. Louis Republican Bob Onder.
One of those proposals would give the attorney general local jurisdiction to prosecute violations of abortion law. Its sponsor, Republican Andrew Koenig of Manchester, said he’d be glad to roll it into another bill. The other one from Republican Bob Dixon of Springfield seeks to dismantle a St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance.
The wide-ranging measure, in addition to encompassing the two narrowly focused bills, also includes legislation similar to a House bill that passed the lower chamber, but never moved in the Senate.
That plan from Republican Diane Franklin of Camdenton had provisions intended to prevent the trafficking of fetal tissue, and to require annual inspections of abortion clinics.
The omnibus bill currently in special session differs only in that it specifies those inspections will be unannounced. Both bills have language protecting whistle-blowers who report violations of abortion law.
The Senate panel debating bills Tuesday – the Seniors, Families and Children Committee – ended up dropping four of the omnibus proposal’s provisions before voting it through on party lines.
The portions eliminated from it include a requirement for doctors performing abortions to discuss risks with patients, the placement of restrictions on abortion drugs with a history of complications, establishing the definition of an abortion clinic and the creation of a crime for employees who deviate from standard abortion procedures.
Bill sponsor Onder said he’s happy with the end product being sent to the Senate floor, despite the omissions.
“Despite the changes, I think we still have a bill that accomplishes the important goals of protecting pregnancy care centers and the good work that they do for women, and helping restore some common sense health and safety regulations that were struck down recently.”
Numerous individuals representing both sides of the abortion issue testified on all three bills before the committee. A small crew of doctors dressed in white hospital coats from Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis argued against the legislation.
Among that group was Dr. Caitlin Parks, who questioned the intent of the measures. “We know that these are not only unsafe, but unconstitutional requirements” said Parks. “We know that it is not to improve women’s safety, so then what exactly is it for. I still haven’t yet heard, despite all the testimony today about the purported need for women’s safety, anything about the women themselves.”
Abortion legislation was ordered by Governor Eric Greitens for the special session. It’s intended to be as much of a response to a recent federal court decision as lawmakers are able to put forth.
Last month, Judge Howard Sachs of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City tossed out portions of Missouri’s abortion law that date back to the 1980’s.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Texas laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and for clinics to meet hospital-type standards for outpatient surgery. After Planned Parenthood sued to reverse almost identical requirements in Missouri, Judge Sachs rendered his decision.
At one point during the 5-and-a-half hour hearing Tuesday, Planned Parenthood’s M’Evie Mead claimed abortion is such a safe procedure that admitting privileges aren’t necessary, and said hospitals don’t want to distribute admitting privileges to doctors that don’t typically admit patients.
Senator Onder noted admitting privileges aren’t part of the current legislation because the statute was struck down by what he called an “elected judge”, referring to Sachs’ in Kansas City.
Order said his measure, Senate Bill 1, is a work around of the federal bench ruling. “Senate Bill 1 was a response to that because we really need to restore common sense health and safety measures that will protect Missouri women.”
Even though the Senate is crafting abortion legislation now, as called for by Governor Greitens, 14 measures have been filed in the House, which is not scheduled to reconvene for the special session until next Tuesday. Senator Onder didn’t seem to think action in the lower chamber will complicate the legislature’s overall goal.
“I think the plan, of course, is that the Senate will go in first, and that the House will take-up whatever bill comes out of the Senate. So I don’t think that things will be muddied.”
The wide-ranging Senate Bill 1, along with the two narrower abortion related measures passed by 4-2 margins in committee and will be debated in the Senate Wednesday.