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Greitens poised to call special session on abortion


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rumors abound that Gov. Eric Greitens will call the second extraordinary session of his first year in office to strike down a St. Louis ordinance that makes it a “abortion sanctuary city” sometime this week. Within that call, he could also ask for legislation to institute further restrictions on abortion within the state.

Don Hinkle, the editor of the Pathway with the Missouri Baptist Convention, said the possibility of a special session was welcome.

“The governor called me, probably a couple of months ago, and he told me that the St. Louis ordinance would not stand,” Hinkle said. “I’ve been patiently waiting.”

Hinkle also said calling a special session would be “smart politics” to put cities that do not respect the authority of the state governments on blast, especially on a large, possibly national, stage.

For NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, the special session could end up being a nightmare. Kirstin Palovick, the organizing and policy director for the organization, noted that Missouri is already the third most restrictive state in the nation when it comes to abortion access, and she noted calling a special session to only pass more restrictions seems excessive and needlessly expensive.

“We’re definitely keeping on our toes about it,” Palovick said Monday. “We have a lot of big concerns that a special session could be called on this issue. We’re wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars to talk about abortion restrictions.”

Susan Klein, MRL’s legislative liaison, sees the situation much differently. She believes if the St. Louis law forces religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs regarding abortion in any way, then it constitutes a crisis that needs to be dealt with swiftly.

“Whether it puts churches or pregnancy resource centers at risk of being forced to do something that goes against their faith or what they have been created to do, if you look at whether people of faith are going to participate in an abortion, then I think you’re having a crisis that needs to be dealt with,” Klein said.

Greitens called a special session in May to pass legislation that would give the PSC authority to negotiate a special rate for a company that showed interest in opening a steel mill in Southeast Missouri. While he achieved that result, Greitens later abandoned a second part of the call that asked for broader ratemaking legislation which could have included grid modernization.

Now, he is taking aim at increased abortion regulations. At an anti-abortion rally in the Capitol Rotunda in March, pro-life groups, like Missouri Right-to-Life, finally embraced the Governor after lukewarm backing during the campaign. Despite Greitens’ promises that he opposed abortion and was solidly pro-life, MRL declined to officially endorse the then-candidate.

Now, the governor has the potential to put his words into action.

“We have to do everything in our power to stand up for, protect and defend the lives of the innocent unborn,” Greitens said at that rally.

Pro-life groups finally embrace Greitens at legislative day

Why do states have so much say in abortion regulations?

While the federal government often takes the lead on many major issues, abortion access took a backseat in Washington during the Obama administration. Even under George W. Bush, only a handful of major laws regarding abortion, embryonic stem cell research and cloning were passed when conservative Republicans controlled Congress for most of his tenure. Nationally, Democrats have had minor infighting in recent months over whether or not to pursue possible pro-life voters in an effort to broaden the party’s appeal.

Palovick says the lack of priority placed on abortion legislation at the federal level leads to state legislatures having a lot of leeway in determining the finer points of abortion regulations in their own states. More conservative states have obviously tended to institute heavier restrictions on abortion.

“Both Republicans and Democrats saying abortion doesn’t need to be a top issue, that’s whenever we start to see this happening,” Palovick said. “Politicians aren’t making it a priority. When it starts to go to the back, when you see it move to the side where states are coming in and that’s where they’re continuing the attack.”

Missouri has been especially avid at passing more abortion regulations with a supermajority Republican House and Senate. The state currently only has one Planned Parenthood facility that offers abortions (though that could change soon), has a 72-hour waiting period between counseling and procedure (tied for the longest waiting period in the nation, alongside North Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Dakota), and abortions can only be performed after the fetus is viable if the mother’s life is endangered or her physical health is severely compromised.

Yet state laws must meet criteria set up by three landmark Supreme Court decisions: Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt (2016). Roe v. Wade held under the 14th Amendment that women had a right to an abortion as it pertained to their privacy rights, but it recognized that the state had an interest the longer a pregnancy went on and restricted third-trimester abortions unless the mother’s life was endangered.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey changed frameworks in Roe v. Wade to make it so the state could regulate abortions so long as they did not place undue burdens on women seeking an abortion, while also shifting away from the “trimester” framework instituted by the court in Roe.

Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt, which will soon celebrate its first anniversary this month, found the “hospital regulations” set up in some states, including Missouri, unconstitutional. It found that Texas laws which required admitting privileges for doctors performing abortions at local hospitals and that abortion providers meet the same restrictions as ambulatory surgery centers. The decision was major blow to anti-abortion advocates, and after a federal judge ruled in April that similar Missouri laws should be struck down because of the Whole Women’s Health decisions, Planned Parenthood has said it intends to once again offer abortion services at several of its Missouri locations, including Columbia, Joplin and Springfield.

Attorney General Josh Hawley has announced he will appeal that ruling.

Aside from those cases, however, most legislating on abortion comes down to the state legislators and not their federal counterparts.

Should the governor’s call remain open for any additional abortion regulations, Klein sees promise in several bills offered by legislators during the regular session. Bills regarding abortion clinic inspections and the accountability of fetal remains, or “baby body parts,” the pain-capable unborn childhood abortion act offered by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, or the two custodial parent notification for a minor abortion bill offered by Rep. Rocky Miller.

“Women’s health is at risk and I think it behooves the state to take action on those issues as well,” Klein said.

Still while all state-level Republicans publicly support abortion restrictions, some members of the GOP privately wonder how many more abortions laws could be passed.

Regardless, Greitens looks as if he’ll give the General Assembly an opportunity to pass such legislation.

Ben Peters contributed to this report.