Missouri the next battleground in war over abortion rights

March 10, 2014

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) is likely to see abortion bills headed for his desk this year (Orlin Wagner/AP)

An unprecedented  wave of new restrictions on abortion rights has swept the country in recent years after Republicans won control of state legislatures across the country. Now, Missouri Republicans are getting in on the act, debating more than 30 bills that would place new limits on medical procedures and the patients who seek them or provide alternatives to abortion services.

All told, there are 32 pieces of antiabortion legislation before Missouri lawmakers this year, some of which have passed initial test votes while others remain in committee.

“We’re looking to pass at least a couple [bills], if not more,” said Susan Klein, the top lobbyist at Missouri Right to Life. Klein said, in previous years, antiabortion lawmakers have pushed omnibus legislation that has fallen short. Individual bills highlighting specific issues can help win over lawmakers who might otherwise be skeptical, she said.

The state House last week voted to require a 72-hour waiting period before a patient obtains an abortion. Missouri is one of 26 states that requires a waiting period, but only two — South Dakota and Utah — have three-day waiting periods.

That bill would also require the state Health Department to create a video that women seeking an abortion would be required to view, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The Health Department already gives women seeking an abortion a 26-page booklet of information.

The House will also debate proposed legislation that would require a minor seeking an abortion to notify both her parents before receiving treatment. One parent would have to consent, but the other would have to be notified in writing at least five days before the procedure.

Abortion providers would be required to undergo state inspections four times a year under a bill being considered in both the House and Senate, up from the single inspection currently required by state law. That bill would also eliminate “psychological or emotional” risks to a woman’s life or health from a provision that allows women to waive the mandatory waiting period.

Several other bills would increase tax credits to abortion alternative services, such as crisis pregnancy centers, or prohibit regulations on advertising by those centers. Senate and House committees have held hearings on those proposals.

The measures are generating fierce push-back from abortion-rights groups. Opponents of the waiting period and video requirement said the measure was insulting to patients, while doctors said the number of emergency vehicles dispatched to abortion clinics in recent years — a key statistic cited by supporters of the bill to increase the number of annual inspections — was low.

“Republican attempts to roll back the clock on women’s rights across the nation show just how out-of-touch the party is with American families,” said Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for the abortion-rights, Democratic group EMILY’s List. “Voters care about economic policies that give families a fair shot, like raising the minimum wage and ending the gender pay gap.”

But there’s not much Democrats can do to block the GOP-led initiatives. The state House, which Republicans control by a more than a two-to-one margin, has passed numerous abortion restriction bills in the last few years, though many have died in the state Senate, where Democrats and a small number of Republicans have blocked the measures. This year, however, Democrats and Republicans alike expect at least a few bills to make it to Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) desk.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.
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