JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – All of the talk this week in the Missouri Capitol has been hinged on the current extraordinary session being held in Jefferson City, on one of the most contentious topics that seem to appear before the legislature in some fashion or another each year: abortion.
This time around, the issue is focused on the matter of abortion, particularly pregnancy resource centers and safety regulations in regard to abortion service providers in the state.
When the Senate’s version of the bill made its way to the House, many thought the House might roll it out quickly and send it to the Governor’s desk. Instead, the House committee re-worked the legislation to go further, led by Rep. Jay Barnes.
Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn sat down with Barnes the night after he successfully led the House to pass a revised version, one that Gov. Eric Greitens is encouraging the Senate to pass. Here’s some of their conversation:
Scott Faughn: You have been known in the entire House as one of the leading voices on pro-life issues. To me, the number one thing I hear about this session is, “of course Republicans are going to pass a pro-life bill. Is this special session truly necessary?”
Rep. Jay Barnes: Yeah, I think so. The Constitution says it gives the Governor the authority to call a special session on extraordinary occasions. So what’s “extraordinary?” It’s something that’s an unusual circumstance. This is our second one. The first one was a call for an economic development type package relating to a specific deal that was sort of coming to a combination that’s entirely consistent with what other special sessions have been called for. This session falls into a slightly different category but also falls into that unusual set. We have a federal district court case from the western district of Missouri hand out a ruling in late April that struck down some of the Constitution of some of current states statutes and regulations and put into doubt the current standing of safety regulations as they relate to abortion providers in the state. That was the first part; the second part relates to pregnancy resource centers in St. Louis and the planned local ordinance by the city of St. Louis that infringes on those pro-life advocates first amendment rights.
Faughn: That was a bill that just dies in the legislature. Senator Silvey said your bill dying is not an extraordinary circumstance. Do you think the court ruling is what truly makes this an extraordinary circumstance and that you might as well legislate the entire thing while you’re doing it?
Barnes: No, I think that the bill calls for an extraordinary remedy as well. There is a long history and a long line of court cases that talk about the infringement of the First Amendment rights of an American are something that constitutes irreparable injury which is grounds for extraordinary relief, an injunction by a court. There are two ways in this state to undo a local ordinance. One way is through the court system; the second way, which we’ve seen a couple times in the state legislature, is to come to the state legislature and ask the state legislature to undo the local ordinance. So, I think there’s a challenge going on but in addition to the challenge to come to the legislature and ask for relief from a local ordinance that infringes on First Amendment rights.
Faughn: So it looked to me like, just from the popcorn gallery, that the Senate passed a bill, they were just trying to get something to you as much as anything else. You guys cracked it at the minute of legislation, now it’s going back to the Senate. It looks like this version has a pretty decent shot at passing. What’s in the bill you passed today?
Barnes: There are really two important things to take away from the bill as it is now. The first relates to safety regulations and the second is the board bill. The second one’s easier to then the first one. The legislature has passed a statute which preempts the board bill shutting down the first amendment rights of pregnancy resource centers in the city of St. Louis. Easy to explain. The second part I think is also easy to explain. The decision in the western district put in some doubt the state’s existing statutes, given the state authority to regulate abortion clinics. So the bill says that the Department of Health and Senior Services maintains the ability to enact safety regulations on those abortions clinics and it provides three specifics. And we have a lot of debate today about, “Oh, this is an undue burden”, “this isn’t fair”, “why are we doing these regulations?” I think it’s important to know the exact type of regulations we’re talking about. I’ve watched the legislature enough to know and hopefully, I don’t make eyes bleed with details but we talk a lot without going into detail… This bill goes in and says the state of Missouri can still regulate those aspects of an abortion clinic and then it provides three additional baseline items. The first is that a facility has to have a plan for a transfer to a hospital within a reasonable distance from the facility.
Faughn: Do facilities currently not have that?
Barnes: It’s interesting that you raise that point because the opponents of the bill say, “Well, look there’s proof that because there have been ambulances at Planned Parenthood facilities taking patients to the hospital, that’s proof that this legislation is completely unnecessary and doesn’t do anything.” There’s are two problems with their line of argument. The first is those ambulance visits occur under a regulatory regime which required the abortion doctor to have admitting privileges at a hospital within fifteen miles of the abortion clinic. The Supreme Court struck down that type of regulation, so it is gone. It was on the undue burden analysis in the Hellerstedt case. So this bill comes back and says, okay, it doesn’t go to that ground but says having to have a plan for transferring a patient to a hospital is a reasonable regulation, particularly in this case where we have evidence of public records of EMS services in St. Louis where there have been twenty-three calls to the Planned Parenthood facility over a four or five week period relating to hemorrhages.
Watch the full interview here: