JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Returning for the second day to take up the bill abortion bill that is the subject of the second extraordinary session of 2017, Missouri’s senators spent more than four hours debating the controversial legislation before finally putting it to a vote.
Republicans pushed hard to modify the Show-Me State’s abortion laws, while Democrats have tried to push back, contending that it’s an attack on women’s rights.
But the one issue that seemed to split the issue for some Republicans and Democrats was a change made by the House, which would give more power to the Attorney General. That provision would allow the Attorney General to intervene in local abortion-related proceedings. Supporters of that provision say that the Attorney General is the chief authority and needs the tools to investigate illegal and unsafe abortion practices.
Opponents of that provision say that authority belongs to the local authorities and that the legislature should be cautious of extending the powers of any government entity. Sen. Jill Schupp also noted that, as far as she was aware, the Attorney General has never asked for that provision. While it came as little surprise that the Democrats had little support for the bill, or that provision, in particular, two Republicans, Sens. Ryan Silvey and Rob Schaaf, both rose to express their concern about the Attorney General provision.
“I’ve voted for every pro-life legislation that the General Assembly has put up for the last 13 years,” Sen. Ryan Silvey said, but told his colleagues that he couldn’t support the bill. He noted that the several members of the chamber all had issues with pieces and parts of the bill, and said that by going to conference, the Senate could at least have the chance to fight for their stance.
“The House is going to dictate every piece of this bill, and the Senate isn’t even going to try to defend their position,” he continued. “At least show good faith on the part of the Senate to attempt to maintain some portion of what the Senate had. Try to have that conversation and stand up for something, even just a piece of it.”
“We’re under an artificial clock right now,” Sen. Jason Holsman added, putting forth a motion to refuse the bill and amending it to send the item to conference between the House and Senate.
“I didn’t get the memo that the pro-life interest groups are in control of the Senate,” Holsman told Sen. Bob Onder, saying that the decisions on how to vote should be left to the senators, not the interest groups attending in the Senate gallery.
Sen. Dave Schatz rose to question why the conference was necessary, asking Holsman if he would accept the outcome of the vote. Schatz said that, while he had voted in favor of the Senate version, he liked the House version better. He told Holsman that the votes would be in favor of passing that version rather than electing to go to conference, and that he didn’t view that as reneging on any deal.
“I don’t think that’s me going back on any word, crossing any bridge, or burning down the building,” Schatz said.
“When the House and the Governor collude together to change legislation, it is to the detriment of the future of this body,” Holsman said. “They changed the call after the House got done with their position in more difficult for us. That is direct and overreact of aggression toward this chamber.”
Schupp said that she had some concerns about conferencing on the bill, saying that she wasn’t sure that a fair negotiation could be had. She said she felt cheated with the previous deal, that the agreed upon outcome had been reneged upon.
“I was not told at the time it was a one-night-stand on the bill,” Schupp said. “What I was told was that we would hold the Senate position, and everything that was done that day, in a very wrong way, was done with people’s knowledge and looking forward to the passage of this body’s version. What I believe is that a negotiated deal in the Senate is a rhetorical price of overstatement.
“When we have a deal, we stand by it. The behavior of this body and this chamber is bigger than one bill.
Schupp also rejected the notion that she was the reason that Onder was held from negotiations that led to the passage of the Senate version, which Sen. Bob Dixon backing up her statements.
Dixon said that if the Senate was going to make a habit of “spilling the beans” in regard to private meetings, then he’d be happy to “cook the beans.”
Schatz’ words proved to be true, as the Senate voted down Holsman’s amendment 12-19 before taking up Sen. Koenig’s motion to adopt the bill as presented by the House. The Senate voted that through, 20-11, leading to Koenig’s motion for third reading and passage.
With defeat inevitable, Schupp rose once again to speak against the bill, outlining how each part of the bill would negatively impact Missourians.
● grants the attorney general original jurisdiction over local authorities
● It would require abortion facilities to have stricter inspection and data collection, including unannounced inspections occurring at least annually for abortion facilities, and also requires inspection reports of abortion facilities to be made public.
● Fetal tissue must be sent to the pathologist within five business days of an abortion and requires more extensive examinations and reporting requirements with shorter time frames for pathologists. Those requirements could increase time and costs for doctors.
● Requiring an annual report to the General Assembly on abortions performed in the state.
● It preempts a St. Louis City law that bans employment and housing discrimination against individuals based on their personal reproductive health decisions.
● This bill prohibits cities from regulating “pregnancy resource centers” (PRCs)
● Opens Missouri courts up to potential lawsuits.
● blocks cities from enforcing laws that protect client confidentiality or guard against false and misleading advertising.
“We’re requiring them [medical practitioners] to commit malpractice,” Schupp said.
After hours of debate, the Senate’s majority party finally resorted to the use of the previous question, which 19 senators signed off on.
That led to a final third reading and passage, with 22 senators voting in favor and nine dissenting.
“Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state,” Governor Eric Greitens said. “I’m proud that many of Missouri’s lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women’s health.”
“Missouri’s abortion laws are already some of the most restrictive in the nation. Federal courts have blocked some of those medically unnecessary restrictions,” Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri Director of Policy and Organizing M’Evie Mead said in a statement. “This political theater is an expensive and ideological ploy to end abortion access in the state. The notion that this session has any benefit for patients’ health and safety is nonsense, and Missourians are smart enough to know that.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.