The legislative special session on abortion called by Republican Governor Eric Greitens will be extended beyond the Fourth of July holiday period.
The process was complicated when the Missouri House amended the Senate’s bill to strengthen regulations on abortion providers. The measure is now back in the hands if the upper chamber where three options are available.
The Senate could take up the bill in its current form, send it to a conference committee where members of both chambers would hash out differences, or ask the House to retreat from its position and adopt what the Senate originally passed.
Republican Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City, the Senate Majority Floor Leader, says the decision on which path to take will be made by the full chamber. “This is a big issue” said Kehoe. “It’s very important to members of my caucus including me. So I think it’s something that we need to discuss as a Senate.”
The House amended the Senate bill to toughen provider regulations in several ways.
It strengthens rules for tracking of fetal tissue after an abortion procedure. A controversial 2015 video has been portrayed by Republicans across the country as an example of Planned Parenthood profiting from the sale of fetal parts. The provision in the House measure is intended to prevent trafficking of fetal tissue in Missouri.
The amended bill also fortifies a portion of the Senate plan that gives the attorney general jurisdiction to prosecute individual abortion cases throughout the state. The House allows the attorney general to enter into cases at his own discretion, regardless of the local prosecutor’s preference.
The lower chamber further requires abortion clinics to have a plan for addressing any procedure that can cause complications, and calls for the facilities to have a system in place to transfer patients to nearby hospitals if further medical care is necessary. It also defines an abortion facility and requires them to submit to unannounced annual inspections.
In addition, the House plan stipulates that only the physician performing the procedure can explain risks to patients. Existing law requires those risks be explained, but allows any qualified professional to do so.
The House version preserves a Senate provision that would toss out a St. Louis city ordinance prohibiting discrimination based pregnancy decisions. A whistle blower clause to protect those who report abortion law violations is also going back to the Senate.
It’s not certain when the upper chamber will take up the omnibus bill again. Majority Floor Leader Kehoe notes there are logistical hurdles in getting lawmakers and necessary staff together for what’s now the Senate’s second gathering in the current special session.
“We have a much smaller body, so it’s not as easy to get as many people together. Our districts are bigger. We have many members who have commitments in the district that are a little bit tough to break. We combine staff issues and the holiday timing.”
Another Republican Senator, Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg, is actually getting married in the next couple of weeks.
Democratic Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors says lawmakers are being strained having to continually return to Jefferson City.
“A lot of these legislators work for a living” said Walsh. “This is the time of the year that they earn their living to take care of their families. It’s not like they’re out on Caribbean cruises.”
Kehoe says the chamber will assemble as quickly as possible and take up the abortion issue, but at this point it won’t be until well after the Fourth of July. By law, special sessions can’t last more than 60 days. In this case, lawmakers will have to wrap up their business by August 11th.
Kehoe is not certain how Senate Republicans, who hold a super-majority, will handle the legislation after the House amended it. “They’ve added some things to it. I don’t disagree with what they added. But the path to getting that through the Senate is going to be what we’re going to have to discuss.”
Democrat Walsh thinks the abortion regulations being considered are an overreach by the legislature. “I don’t like people telling me what I can’t do as long as I do it within the law, and that’s what we’re talking about here. We’re restricting people’s choices and the ability to lead their lives as they choose.”
Walsh also thinks Governor Greitens was wrong to call a special session over abortion. “I don’t think that this issue rises to the level of importance as health care, school funding. I don’t think it rises to that level of importance for my constituents.”