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Conservative lawmakers incensed after legislature adjourns without ‘defunding’ abortion providers

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The fissure between Republicans in the Missouri Legislature seemed to widen even further Wednesday as the extraordinary session concluded without lawmakers advancing any legislation curtailing public spending on abortion providers or affiliates. 

The General Assembly passed a nearly clean FRA renewal package before the governor’s July 1 deadline but adjourned without advancing a bill from Rep. Nick Schroer that would prohibit public funds from going toward abortion facilities, affiliates, or associates. The bill would also enshrine the Hyde Amendment in Missouri in case of any potential actions at the federal level to repeal it. 

The House third read and passed Schroer’s bill Wednesday, kicking it to the Senate. 

But instead of taking it up during this special session, Senate GOP leadership said it would work with the House and the Governor’s Office “in the weeks and months to come to take definitive action to make these initial actions permanent,” noting their legal team said the session needed to be fully completed by Friday in order for the FRA package to tack effect by the end of September. 

The joint statement from Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden also said they would establish an Interim Committee on Medicaid Accountability and Taxpayer Protection to study the MO HealthNet program and work on the “continued protection of unborn life” in the state. 

Sen. Bill White has been picked to chair the committee with Sen. Karla Eslinger serving as vice chair. Other members include Sens. Mike Bernskoetter, Justin Brown, Mike Cierpiot, Bill Eigel, Elaine Gannon, Lauren Arthur, Jill Schupp, and Karla May. 

But some conservative members of the legislature were miffed by the announcement.

“The decision to adjourn is one that should be made by a majority of the members — not a minority of two,” Sen. Mike Moon, a member of the Conservative Caucus, told The Missouri Times. 

Sen. Bob Onder was perhaps the most vociferous supporter of adding language targeting abortion providers — specifically, Planned Parenthood — when the FRA renewal package was in the upper chamber. He attempted to attach an amendment to the FRA bill that would outright prevent Medicaid coverage for abortion providers and their affiliates, but it was defeated in a roll call vote with 11 Republicans joining all Democrats in defeating it.

Both Moon and Onder said leadership’s decision not to take up HB 2 “certainly doesn’t help” fracturing within the GOP. 

“I was especially disappointed that they did not consult with the caucus over this issue. It’s my understanding that House members were being told this morning that we would indeed be taking up HB 2,” Onder said. “There seems to be a great deal of will not to defund abortion providers during this extraordinary session. It’s hard to see how things will be different next session — I hope they are — but I don’t know how the dynamics are going to change.” 

“There was no reason we couldn’t have renewed the FRA and defunded abortion providers at the same time. All the arguments against it will still be there next session,” he continued. “I think there was a great will to get an FRA done that keeps money flowing to abortion providers and those who sought to do that accomplished their wish.” 

Eigel, the only Conservative Caucus member appointed to the interim committee, said on Twitter: “I just found out the Senate would adjourn without considering a defund of Planned Parenthood on HB 2. This is a disappointing day as many senators were not even asked for their opinion on adjournment.”

In a statement to The Missouri Times, Sen. Denny Hoskins echoed his fellow Conservative Caucus members’ sentiments of disappointment and the lack of consultation. 

Rowden defended the move as a “tough (and quick) decision” leadership had to make when faced with the possibility prolonging session could jeopardize the FRA extension altogether. 

“When you are in these leadership roles, there are no easy decisions. We didn’t expect everyone to agree with us — and that’s OK,” Rowden said. “Leaders lead even in tough moments, and that is exactly what Sen. Schatz and I did today.” 

“I am incredibly disheartened and disappointed in the Senate neglecting to uphold their promise to Missourians that they will protect life at all levels,” Rep. Nick Schroer said after his HB 2 failed to make it through the extraordinary session. (HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS/TIM BOMMEL)

Republicans squabbled over their pro-life bona fides during the special session called to renew the FRA. Some GOP lawmakers stressed the importance of renewing the Medicaid tax so some of the most vulnerable Missourians could continue to receive health care; others were steadfast in their beliefs the legislature needed to do more to tackle Planned Parenthood funding in the wake of a 2020 Missouri Supreme Court ruling preventing the legislature from defunding abortion providers through the budget. 

“I am incredibly disheartened and disappointed in the Senate neglecting to uphold their promise to Missourians that they will protect life at all levels,” Schroer told The Missouri Times. “Both Gov. Parson and the Missouri House made good on that promise, and we both took necessary action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, the Senate’s abhorrent failure to take up the monumental HB 2 is resulting in our hard-earned tax dollars going toward abortion providers and their affiliates as they continue to refer Missouri women to the death mill known as the ‘Hope Clinic’ just across the river.”

The FRA program taxes providers — covering hospitals, nursing homes, ambulances, pharmacies, and facilities for the intellectually disabled — which is then matched by federal dollars at a higher rate, reimbursing providers and leaving the state with extra money by reducing the burden on the state’s Medicaid program. 

Gov. Mike Parson signed SB 1 later Wednesday, extending the FRA by three years. He had warned he would have to withhold a “detrimental” $722 million from across state government, including to education and foster care services, if it was not renewed. He said failure to reauthorize the FRA would lead to a loss of $591 million in 2022 and $788 million in 2023. 

“With billions of dollars in jeopardy and millions of livelihoods at stake, the majority of legislators put narrow political interests aside and passed an FRA renewal bill that protects Missouri’s most vulnerable populations and builds on our pro-life principles,” Parson said. “To all those who helped get the FRA across the finish line: We appreciate your work.” 

Missouri Right to Life, on the other hand, praised the five senators and 13 representatives who voted against the FRA bill sans pro-life protections in its own statement Wednesday evening. 

Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman was one legislator who voted against the FRA because, as she said, she refused to “cave to those who had already surrendered this opportunity” to include pro-life language. She said she would pre-file the language of HB 2 as soon as she can. 

“As a mother, a Catholic, a conservative, and a woman I made a promise to the people of Jefferson County that I would take every advantage of every chance I had every day I represented them to end abortion in Missouri,” Coleman said.