JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion activists filled Senate Hearing Room 1 to capacity early Tuesday morning to discuss a new bill from Sen. Bob Onder, R-O’Fallon, which would bring a new wave of restrictions on abortion to Missouri.
SB 644, which was heard by the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee, creates specifications for abortion clinics to obtain ambulatory surgical center (ASC) licenses, details physician privileges, alters the requirements surrounding fetal tissue, and forbids the donation of such materials for scientific, medical, experimental or therapeutic use.
Onder’s bill comes from revelations regarding the findings of the Senate Sanctity of Life Committee. He served on that committee with Seniors’ Families and Children Committee chair, Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, as well as attending committee members Sens. Jeanie Riddle, Will Kraus, and Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
“My bill is aimed at further clarifying the law and the policy of the state of Missouri that have been around for a long time,” Onder stated. “There are a number of areas where either the law was pretty clear and the department seemed to skirt or disregard the law, and other places where there were gaps or needs for improvement.”
A litany of supporters found these enhanced regulations necessary in light of the scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood’s fetal donation program (which has since been discontinued) and in opposition to abortion practices, among them was gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway, the former Speaker of the House.
“In the wake of last year’s devastating revelations about Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, it is essential that we take bold steps to curb abuses and defend the innocent unborn,” Hanaway said in a statement. “I have been outspoken since last year against Planned Parenthood’s practices and Senator Onder’s bill is a step in the right direction to provide dutiful oversight over abortions in Missouri.”
On the other hand, abortion rights advocates believe these laws amount to restrictions specifically placed on abortion in one of the most restrictive states in the nation for such a procedure.
Sarah Rossi of the ACLU of Missouri, identifying the organization as a non-partisan constitutional law organization, urged the committee to oppose Onder’s legislation in light of Court rulings which had upheld a woman’s right to an abortion, including Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
“The point of Casey wasn’t just that the legislature’s intent should be to promote women’s health care, and they weren’t just trying to close down abortion clinics,” Rossi said.
An upcoming Supreme Court case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, will challenge a new Texas law which sets provisions that are highly similar to Missouri’s abortion laws regarding ambulatory surgical centers. Whole Women’s health, an abortion provider argues that the law does not actually benefit women’s health, but instead acts as a limit on abortion access
Rossi warned that Onder’s law could easily become unconstitutional depending on the Supreme Court’s ruling, which she expects to be decided based on Casey.
However, Onder says that his bill really does look out for women’s health care.
“I would not characterize for instance the ambulatory surgery law as restricting abortion practice so much that it clarifies that that particular surgical procedure needs to be done up to the same standards as other surgical procedures throughout our state,” he said. “We do not want to have fly-in abortionists doing a bunch of abortions in a city, flying out and leaving the women without any follow up care to manage complications should they occur.”
At the end of his testimony however, Onder noted the number of abortions that took place at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood last year. He judged that nearly 350 “murdered babies” was too high.
“Missouri women do not need to be getting their health care from an abortion mill,” he said.
Despite the opposition to Planned Parenthood in the Missouri legislature, Alison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, does not believe the legislation will become law, even though she noted that Missouri has become the third most restrictive state in the nation on abortion rights. Instead, she believes this legislation is purely political.
“I think it’s just a tool for the senator to take back to his right-wing constituency to say that ‘I did this in such an important year such as 2016 where we’re going to have a Supreme Court decision come down on half of exactly what this bill is talking about,’” she said. “He has continually made abortion legislation one of his top priorities whether it gets passed or not, and just like we saw in 2015. Thirty pieces of legislation were filed, none of them moved, and I expect to see the same this year.”