JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Eric Greitens confirmed rumors that he would call the second extraordinary session of his first year in office. This time, the extraordinary session will take place to create increased abortion regulations starting Monday, June 12.
Greitens did not offer an official call as of press time. Instead, he released a video message on social media, saying one of the major facets of the special session would be a bill to void an ordinance passed by the city of St. Louis to include protections for reproductive choices, ranging from pregnancy to abortion, in their anti-discrimination statute. Opponents of the legislation say that it infringes on the freedom of religion.
I’m proud to support life—the lives of mothers, their children, and the innocent unborn. WATCH our call for a pro-life special session. pic.twitter.com/kELtCNrdKC
— Eric Greitens (@EricGreitens) June 7, 2017
“Our faith community and volunteers do incredible work to support people in need. And there’s few finer examples than the work pregnancy care centers do across our state,” Greitens said. “In the city of St. Louis, some of these pregnancy care centers are under attack. There’s a new city law making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city — where pregnancy care centers can’t work the way they’re supposed to. Politicians are trying to make it illegal, for example, for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians.”
Greitens also noted that increased regulations on abortion clinics would be a focus of the session. In April, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs ruled that some of Missouri’s abortion regulations, namely laws calling for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital and for abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. That decision was the direct result of a Supreme Court case last year which ruled several highly similar laws from Texas as unconstitutional.
Legislators and activists react
Sen. Bob Onder, the legislator who offered one of the major abortion legislation bills in the Senate during the regular session, applauded the governor’s call. Onder added that he had discussions with the governor’s staff since the Sachs ruling came down, and that a special session to address the changes were a possibility even then.
“It’s urgent the Missouri legislature act to protect the health and safety of women and to assure people in the city of St. Louis have their constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion protected,” Onder said. “I think the call definitely meets the standards of importance and urgency that governors use as their standard.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Sen. Jill Schupp, one of the foremost Democratic supporters of abortion access in the upper chamber, said she believed the call exceeded the governor’s authority.
“Just because these bills didn’t make it through the legislative process doesn’t mean you call a special session for it,” Schupp said. “You have a very deliberative and complex process for a bill to become law in the general session, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes it takes years, and that’s because we want to make sure that when we do finalize a bill that it is based on a lot of input and deliberation and consideration about what the outcome of that bill will be, and we try to think through unintended consequences.”
Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican, was on both sides of the issue. While he’s fervently pro-life, he had mixed feelings about another special session and questioned the cost of such a project.
“I don’t necessarily want to have the legislature in a continuous special session, but that being said, I am pro-life,” Koenig said. “As long as he’s not going to keep calling us back. We’re supposed to be a citizen legislature, we all have businesses to run, but on the pro-life stuff, I’d be happy to be called in for that.”
Forcing unconstitutional bills through #moleg is bad. Calling a special session & spending even more taxpayer $ to do so is worse.
— Cora Faith Walker (@CoraFaith4MO) June 7, 2017
Alison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said Greitens was putting the welfare of Missouri women at risk by calling a session purely to prove himself as a conservative. She noted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session in his own state, which included taking a look at abortion measures. However, Dreith highlighted that Abbott also included other priorities in his call, while Greitens continues to bring back the General Assembly multiple times.
“This emergency meeting of the state legislature is an appalling example of out-of-touch priorities,” Dreith said. “Make no mistake about it, the intent behind the governor’s actions is to shame women for their personal medical decisions and make basic reproductive health care harder to access.”
On the other hand, anti-abortion advocates across the state applauded the move. Susan Klein, the legislative liaison of Missouri Right-to-Life, said the organization was “grateful for Gov. Greitens and his commitment to protecting women and unborn babies.” Samuel Lee, a longtime fixture at the Capitol for the anti-abortion movement, said he looked forward to the supermajority Republican legislature voting on these issues next week.
“Based on the votes during the regular session, we know that state lawmakers overwhelmingly support protecting the conscience rights of pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations, and ending the madness caused by abortion advocates in St. Louis,” Lee said.
Ben Peters contributed to this report.