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Senate Votes To Substantially Limit Abortion In Missouri

Updated at 6 a.m. May 16 with Senate passage — Missouri is a step closer to having some of the strictest limits on abortion in the country.

The measure approved by the state Senate early Thursday bans abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, usually around six to eight weeks. There is no exception for rape or incest and there are also complete bans on abortion if a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome, or based on race or gender.

The 24-to-10 vote came after marathon negotiations between Republican and Democratic leadership that staved off an expected filibuster. Democrats were able to win a few small concessions, including a change to language that would have required a second parent to be notified before a minor had an abortion, with some exceptions. Now, that second-parent notification only applies to the “parent of a minor who has been awarded joint legal custody or joint physical custody” by a court.

Though the core of the ban remains in place, the changes were too much for Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis and a member of the Conservative Caucus.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves for what we did to the bill today,” Onder said on the floor. “This should be entitled not the ‘Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,’ but ‘The Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act’ sort of, kind of, only after the minority party and the smartest Planned Parenthood lawyers in the country were done with the bill.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, was disappointed for an entirely different reason.

“This is still a bad bill,” she said. “I was told that there was a compromise, and that they’re not doing any filibustering. I’m very disappointed. However, if I don’t have the backing of the whole minority party with me, I can’t do it alone.”

The Senate changes still need approval by the state House. Governor Mike Parson is expected to sign the measure when it reaches his desk.

Original story from May 15:

It would make Missouri the latest state with a GOP-controlled Legislature to pass such a measure, a move that will almost certainly spark years of litigation that go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If that eight-week ban is struck down, there’s language in the billthat would increase the amount of time a woman could get an abortion. The first tier is 14 weeks. If that’s overturned by a court, the state would have an 18-week ban. And if that doesn’t hold up, Missouri would bar abortions after 20 weeks.

Also, the legislation would, with the exception of medical emergencies, ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Doctors who violate aspects of the bill could be charged with a felony and have their license revoked. It would also, with some exceptions, require two parents to provide consent for a minor to get an abortion.

The bill is a major priority for the Legislature and Gov. Mike Parson. Speaking with legislative allies on Thursday afternoon, Parson urged the Senate to approve Rep. Nick Schroer's legislation.

"And I want to thank everybody for being here today to take a bold stand for life and to celebrate the victories that we've made," Parson said. "Don't lose your commitment to protecting life. Because until the day that we no longer have abortions in this country, I will never waver in the fight for life."

But even before  Schroer’s legislation was brought to the floor, two Democratic senators — Sens. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur — began to speak out against the legislation. It’s widely expected that all 10 of the Senate’s Democratic members will filibuster to either stop the bill from passing — or to force changes to the legislation. A filibuster began around noon and continued until about 4 p.m. when the Senate went into a recess.

“I would characterize this bill as extreme,” Arthur said. “This language four years ago would be unthinkable. But elections have consequences. And with new Supreme Court justices, there is a renewed attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. And with that, there is a push in this Legislature to pass what I would characterize as very extreme legislation.”

Both Arthur and Schupp decried the lack of exceptions for rape and incest in the bill.

“Who knows what will happen to the young girls of this state should this law move forward and prevent those who are already victims,” Schupp said.

Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake Saint Louis Republican, said he wanted his Senate colleagues to pass the bill without significant changes.

"We have the opportunity today to pass the most important abortion legislation in Missouri, in the United States — and yes, the history of this country," Onder said.

Expected court fight

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, speaks in favor of a Missouri bill that could ban most abortions in the state on May 15, 2019.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, speaks in favor of a Missouri bill that could ban most abortions in the state on May 15, 2019.

Missouri’s legislation comes as other states, like Georgia and Alabama, have also passed restrictive abortion bills in the past few weeks, Alabama’s law that was passedon Tuesday would ban the procedure entirely, with the exception of medical emergencies. 

Both Republicans and Democrats expect that if Parson signs Schroer’s bill into law, it will almost certainly face a court challenge.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Schmitt said his office was ready to defend the measure if it becomes law. He noted that Missouri has often been at the forefront of abortion-related legislation.

“There have been a lot of cases in front of the United States Supreme Court as it relates to issues around abortion and pro-life legislation that came out of the Legislature,” Schmitt said. "If they get something done, we’re ready, willing and able even it takes us all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Opponents of Schroer’s legislation have questioned whether the lack of a rape or incest exception would violate a federal law. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found this year that South Dakota ran afoul of a requirement for Medicaid to pay for abortions caused by rape or incest.

Asked if he was concerned that could affect Missouri’s Medicaid program, especially if a Democratic candidate becomes president after 2020, Schmitt replied: “I’m going to let them get to where they want to get to.”

“I’ll let them get to the finish line, and then we’ll defend the law,” he said.

Leana Wen of the Planned Parenthood Fund said in a statement that Parson shoud "be ashamed of riding the disgraceful coattails of 25 white men in Alabama who just voted to ban safe, legal abortion."

"Following in their footsteps and those of politicians in Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi will be disastrous for the patients Planned Parenthood serves and for women all across the country," Wen said. "Women: it’s time to rise up."

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said her GOP colleagues are taking a different approach than other states passing restrictive abortion laws.

"One of the reasons we say this is the boldest abortion bill in the country is not just because we're trying to challenge Roe. Of course we hope Roe will be overturned," Coleman said. "But it's designed the day that it is signed to go into effect to save the lives of women and children across this state."

Public dollars for sports stadiums

The House on Wednesday sent Parson a bill that would allow for as much as $4.5 million of state general revenue dollars to upgrade public entertainment facilities such as Enterprise Center in St. Louis, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. No money could be put into the budget for this purpose until 2021

The Senate added a provision that would require the St. Louis Blues to pay back any funds if the team leaves St. Louis.

Opponents argued that tax money from rural Missourians should not benefit facilities in urban areas. But supporters said the upgrades that would be funded would expand the number of events the stadiums could host, and the extra tax revenue would benefit the entire state.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.
Rachel Lippmann
Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.
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