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Rep. Cori Bush: Democrats must scrap Senate filibuster to save abortion in Missouri

Tears well up in the eyes of Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) as she talks about abortion and healthcare issues on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, during a demonstration at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Tears well up in the eyes of Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) as she talks about abortion and healthcare issues on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, during a demonstration at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

The Missouri Democrat said that as long as it requires 60 votes to pass most measures in the Senate, there's no way to pass legislation codifying a right to an abortion in federal law — unless senators temporarily create a carve-out to the filibuster.

Congresswoman Cori Bush believes there’s one thing standing in the way of guaranteeing legal abortion in Missouri: the filibuster.

During a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Bush, D-St. Louis County, said that as long as it requires 60 votes to pass most measures in the Senate, legislation codifying a right to an abortion in federal law doesn’t have a pathway to success.

She said she wants President Joe Biden to press senators to act — including potentially temporarily creating a carve-out of the filibuster to codify the right to an abortion.

“I would love for the president to use some of his political capital in this way,” Bush said. “Once it’s done, it’s done. And we’re talking about something that’s been our constitutional right for 49 years. And then it’s just rolled back this simply.”

The issue of abortion access reached a fever pitch this week after Politico reported on a draft Supreme Court opinion would overturn Roe v. Wade. That would effectively allow states to decide whether to make abortion illegal. Missouri lawmakers passed “trigger” language in 2019 that would ban abortion in the state except for medical emergencies. That law is currently being litigated in federal court.

Missouri’s law doesn’t have any exceptions for rape or incest. Bush testified last year before Congress that when she was 17, she became pregnant after she was raped. She chose to have an abortion.

When it became clear that the leaked draft could become reality in a couple of months, Bush said she “was broken.”

“Once this decision is written and announced, we lose our rights to an abortion in this state,” Bush said.

Reaction to the Politico story has largely fallen on partisan lines in Missouri's congressional delegation. Some Republicans have been critical of how Justice Samuel Alito’s draft, which is not necessarily the court's final majority opinion, became public.

“This attack on the independence of the Court cannot stand without strong and decisive action from the Chief Justice,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, in a Tweet.

But for the most part, Missouri Republicans have expressed hope that the substance of the draft becomes part of the final decision.

“Justice Alito's draft opinion not only restores the Constitutional rights of our citizens and the legislative process, it would give millions of children a chance to live the life God intended,” said Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth.

Bush said the ramifications of the pending ruling could be larger than just a right to an abortion.

“We have to look at this from the angle of ‘this could be just the beginning,’” Bush said. “It can affect gay marriage. It can affect interracial marriage. It can affect how far this will go once we allow this far right, partisan, Supreme Court to make decisions. Once we open the door, it seems that anything is on the table.”

Bush defends votes on Ukraine

Among the other topics that Bush discussed Wednesday were her votes on sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

While Bush has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin, she has voted against a number of sanction bills. That includes legislation that bans Russian oil imports.

Bush emphasized that she finds the Russian invasion abhorrent, adding that it’s difficult to watch on television how communities are “bombed and torn apart.”

“And we want to help and step in — and save those lives and communities,” Bush said. “But what we cannot do is say, ‘I want to help this community, I want to help this country.’ And then in helping this country, we’re going to also allow for this other country or these other people to hurt.”

She said she needed assurances that countries like Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and a major player in a military conflict in Yemen, wouldn’t have benefitted from curbing the use of Russian oil.

“We have a Yemeni community right here in St. Louis. We have to care about what’s happening to them and their family members as well,” Bush said.

Bush said she is unsure whether she will support legislation that would provide $33 billion to Ukraine. She said she’s getting varied reactions to that proposal for humanitarian and military relief.

“We’ve received a lot of outreach from community members who’ve said ‘OK, we’re giving money again. As much as we support the Ukrainian people being safe and having the aid that they need, what about what’s happening in St. Louis? When does that come to St. Louis?” Bush said.

She noted that some constituents questioned why there’s focus on getting money to Ukraine — and not the same energy about reviving a child tax credit that ended after the failure to pass the Build Back Better Act.

“We are told that the resources aren’t there,” Bush said. “But we come up with billions of dollars for another country. Right now, I’m listening to what people are saying all across the district.”

Other members of the Missouri delegation have expressed support for continued aid to Ukraine. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said that she visited Ukraine two years ago as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“They are a freedom-loving democracy,” Hartzler said. “And we need to stand with them. So, we need to get them their equipment.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum 

Copyright 2022 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.
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