Long day (and night) in Senate leads to compromise on abortion bills

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The legislature endured a slow day in special session Wednesday that stretched to just past midnight in the Senate. But eventually, significant progress was made towards achieving the goal of meeting the call Gov. Eric Greitens issued for his second extraordinary session.

While the Senate was scheduled to go into session at 9 a.m., it did not convene until around 7:20 p.m., more than 10 hours later, as senators tried to work on a compromise Democrats would not filibuster on the floor.

When they came back, they introduced a heavily changed version of Sen. Andrew Koenig’s bill that became the carrier for the three primary planks of the legislation heard in committee yesterday. Koenig’s bill retained its own meaning, granting the attorney general’s office original jurisdiction over abortion law violations and incorporated Sen. Bob Dixon’s measure that would overrule and invalidate the St. Louis “abortion sanctuary city” ordinance decried by Republicans.

However, it also absorbed most provisions from Sen. Bob Onder’s bill that would change regulations on fetal tissue reports to the Department of Health and Senior Services, require annual on-site inspections of abortion clinics and mandate a written policy by abortion clinics for whistleblowers.

Koenig said the bill certainly wasn’t perfect, especially when it came to the fetal tissue reporting requirement, which only asks for a representative sample and does not require a microscopic pathology report. Koenig said there were numerous instances of pathology reports on abortions received by the DHSS that showed no products of conception, which could be serious.

“In an instance of an abortion, either part of the baby is still inside the mother, or it was disposed elsewhere, or they did an abortion and there was no baby there at all and they just did it to make money,” Koenig said. “Who knows what the case is, but it could be a life-threatening situation for the mother… I certainly think there are definitely people that think it’s a little bit too weak.”

On the other hand, Koenig said giving the DHSS the ability to promulgate new rules on abortion clinics was a huge step and having annual inspections of abortion clinics was “common sense.” As someone involved in construction, he said he often had to deal with inspections for safety reasons.

“I’m not even operating on a human being, I’m building something,” Koenig said.

He added the back-and-forth lasted such a long time to get to a place where Democrats would not filibuster the bill, and Republican leadership appeared highly successful in that endeavor. In the brief floor time Wednesday evening, several Democratic senators noted the bill was one they would step aside on and allow to come to a vote. When the Senate convened at midnight to vote on the measure, there was no discussion and Koenig was immediately able to close. His bill passed 20-8 along party lines, though the emergency clause was ultimately unsuccessful.

Sen. Scott Sifton

Sen. Scott Sifton

Democrats however did speak more broadly about the special session called by Greitens, and no one spoke more fervently than Sen. Scott Sifton. Sifton railed against the governor for calling an extraordinary session that he did not believe was extraordinary, likening the call to a baseball game, with the regular session being nine innings.

“You don’t get to add three extra innings just because you didn’t get the job done,” Sifton said.

However, he went further speaking on the rumors that Greitens will call even more special sessions in the interim without meeting the standard of “extraordinary.”

“For every day we are called back on something I do not believe meets the test, I will personally see to it that we burn two days next regular session,” he pledged. “If we’re going to abuse the call, I will enforce the constitution by myself at a time of my choosing.

“This is not a consequence free environment.”

The Senate is not set to convene until Thursday, June 22.

House committee passes bills as well

On the other side of the building, The House Children and Families Committee hearing also stretched on seemingly ad infinitum for almost seven hours before a brief executive session due to lengthy testimony from advocates on both sides of the issue. Representatives from Missouri Right-to-Life, the Missouri Catholic Conference and others testified in favor of the legislation, and those from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri and others opposed it.

However, the one man perhaps most unhappy with the bills from Republican Reps. Kathy Swan and Jay Barnes was Republican Rep. Mike Moon.

Moon attracted national attention for a video he posted to Facebook Monday that showed him decapitate a chicken while speaking about the special session. Moon voiced his displeasure with the legislation offered by Swan and Barnes because it did not outright ban abortion.

“Certainly these babies are human. Certainly they feel pain,” Moon said. “By regulating, we just continue the killing of unborn children. That sir and madam, I believe to be a travesty.”

Barnes attempted to explain that multiple Supreme Court rulings meant any law that passed that banned the practice of abortion would be ruled unconstitutional.

“Attempting to do that would have zero effect. Such a law would be struck down,” Barnes said. “I understand you want to make this bill more than we can make it about in an effective manner. It might make one to feel good say those things. But the ultimate path would be to have no safety regulations at all.”

Action on those bills was eventually postponed.

However, two other bills did pass, including Rep. Hannah Kelly’s own version of the “abortion sanctuary city” bill that would void a St. Louis ordinance adding reproductive choice decisions to their anti-discrimination statutes. Opponents of the ordinance say it could force renters and employers to lease property to abortion clinics or force alternatives-to-abortion companies to hire abortion advocates.

Rep. Diane Franklin’s bill also passed. It is deals with fetal tissue reports, but unlike the section of Koenig’s bill, it requires an entire sample, not a representative one, be sent to a pathologist.

Those bills will be heard when the House convenes in full next week.

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