The Missouri Senate has passed abortion legislation to close out a special session of the state legislature.
Republican Governor Eric Greitens initially called the session in early June to respond to a court decision tossing out two Missouri laws. One required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and the other called for abortion clinics to have hospital-type standards for outpatient care.
The special session began in the Senate, which approved a plan to stiffen regulations on abortion providers in mid-June. Its bill was then taken up by the House, which passed even tougher legislation.
The Senate Tuesday took roughly three hours to affirm the lower chamber’s plan with no changes. The final vote was 22-9.
The Senate spent the majority of its surprisingly short floor session debating whether to take up the bill, or request a conference with the House to hash out differences between the two bodies.
The conference motion came from Democrat Jason Holsman of Kansas City, who outright opposes the abortion legislation, but found the Senate version less severe.
Holsman, at one point, accused Republican Bob Onder of Lake Saint Louis of pressuring fellow GOP members to embrace the tougher House legislation by siting pro-life groups (such as Right to Life) that rate lawmakers based on their votes. “I didn’t get the memo that the pro-life special interest groups were now in charge of the Missouri Senate” said Holsman.
At least three Republicans (Bob Dixon of Springfield, Ryan Silvey of Kansas City and Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph) voted to go to committee over concerns about enhanced power the House version granted to the attorney general to intervene in local abortion court cases.
Unease over the provision was brought up Monday, when the Senate broke a near month long delay in activity by gaveling in to address the abortion bill. Silvey and Schaaf mentioned that the attorney general authority was unconstitutional.
Bill sponsor Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester) indicated Monday he wouldn’t move to send the bill to committee.
Democrats, who favored going to committee, forced the Republican super-majority to use a procedural maneuver to bring the legislation to a vote Tuesday. Members of the minority party continually complained that the Senate was backtracking on positions it had taken in the original bill it crafted.
Democrat Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur, who worked on the original Senate version during marathon negotiations in June thought Republicans went back on their word.
“I believe that in the Senate, your word is your bond” said Schupp. “I believed that there was integrity. Now I feel…I don’t know how we go forward. I don’t know how we trust each other. And that is a big blow to what I believe was what the Senate had to offer.”
Changes made by the House that were embraced by the Senate Tuesday included a more robust definition of abortion clinics, which include separate regulations from other medical centers.
It requires clinics to submit to unannounced annual inspections and have plans for possible complications arising from RU486 (the abortion pill). It forbids clinic workers from interfering with EMS personnel performing their duties, or instructing ambulance drivers to not use lights and sirens.
The measure has whistleblower protections for clinic employees, and requires abortion doctors to meet with their patients 72-hours in advance of the procedure to explain its risks.
The Senate spent little time on a portion of the legislation championed by House Republican Diane Franklin of Camdenton, which sets strict requirements for tracking fetal tissue after abortions. The provision is meant to prevent trafficking of fetal tissue.
Another portion of the bill is meant to protect non-abortion performing pregnancy centers from an ordinance in St. Louis which prohibits discrimination based on reproductive decisions and use of birth control. Senator Onder noted it doesn’t dismantle the ordinance, but does shields the centers from having to participate in abortions.
“Pregnancy care centers can’t be forced to hire someone who doesn’t share their mission of offering an alternative to women” said Onder. “But it did not repeal all of the ordinance. Some of the other so-called reproductive health decision protections, those remain in place.”
The Archbishop of St. Louis released a statement, noting that because the legislation failed to eliminate the ordinance, its lawsuit against the city will “continue”.
While most Republicans were happy with the measure, Onder acknowledged it didn’t replace the strict abortion restrictions discarded by the federal judge in May.
“We’re not reinstating Missouri law prior to May 2nd. What we’re doing is making sure that there is regulatory authority of the Department of Health to protect the safety of women.”
One Republican, Ryan Silvey, joined all eight Democrats present in voting against the bill. Silvey said the enhancement to the attorney general’s authority clashed with his values as a conservative. “It is centralization of power and it’s not a conservative principle. We are not for, as conservatives, centralization of power.”
The bill now goes to Governor Greitens desk.