JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With the legislative session fast approaching, Republican legislators have released their agenda for 2016. While ethics reform, economic development, transportation funding and stadium financing (or lack thereof) will be a focus in the coming year, the ongoing battle over abortion rights, restrictions and regulations should also play a central role.
Several legislators have submitted legislation regarding abortion already. A bill from Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, would require that that the consenting parent of a minor to provide prior written notification to other custodial guardians of the decision for a minor to get an abortion; Rep. Tila Hubrecht, R-Dexter, has proposed the “Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act;” Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, would ban abortions performed for purposes of sex selection or because the child has genetic abnormalities; and Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, has a vaguely worded bill that seemingly implicates anyone involved in getting an abortion as subject to criminal punishments.
In the Senate, only two bills regarding abortion have been filed. Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, would ban the abortion of fetuses solely for the reason if they are diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, would seek to rectify many of the issues that have come up in the past few months during the Sanctity of Life Committee hearings.
The committee was formed after the Center for Medical Progress released videos alleging that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit, casting one of the leading abortion providers in the United States under a cloud of suspicion and sparking a new chapter in the debate over reproductive rights across the country. The creator of the videos has also come under scrutiny.
Onder’s bill would also require yearly, unannounced abortion facility inspections.
“It is clear that inspections have been done on a hit and miss basis in the past under both Democrat and Republican administrations,” Onder said. “Especially in light of the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, we need to make sure that inspections do happen on a regular basis. There hasn’t been anything nearly as horrific here, but there were findings that need to be followed up on. If you do the inspections regularly, things are going to be on the up-and-up.”
The Kermit Gosnell case to which Onder refers happened as a result of a lack of oversight by the state of Pennsylvania and the City of Philadelphia. In 2013, Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first degree murder for killing three infants, 21 counts of performing illegal abortions, 211 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s 24-hour consent law and one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman who sought an abortion at his facility, which was found in a 2010 raid to be extremely unsanitary (unsterilized equipment, fetal remains stored in milk jugs and orange juice containers, blood-stained furniture in the waiting room, etc.) with ill-trained and unlicensed staff.
While all of these bills in some way, shape or form make access to abortions more difficult or provide further regulation over the procedure, Onder’s bill instead strives for further clarity in existing law. Although fetal tissue donation does not occur within the state of Missouri, Onder’s bill would completely ban it, while also putting into statute new language regarding tissue reports from the pathologists that receive and examine fetal remains.
It also cracks down on ambulatory surgery center (ASC) license renewal and application for facilities who do not all requirements, and it would doctors who perform abortions at such facilities to have surgical and admitting privileges at a nearby hospital instead of the more vague clinical privileges.
This last stipulation would have made it impossible for the Columbia Planned Parenthood affiliate to receive its ASC license since Dr. Colleen McNicholas only had “refer-and-follow” privileges at the University of Missouri Hospital.
Onder says those portions of his bill seek to clarify current statutes in an effort to settle debates the Sanctity of Life Committee had with the Department of Health and Human Services over statutory language.
“Those provisions will make it clearer,” Onder said. “Even as the law is written, I think it’s clear to me the Department of Health [and Senior Services] was playing fast and loose with the statute, but I think this will make it completely clear and prevent more episodes in the future.”
However, Mary Kogut, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, notes that Onder’s clarifications still come at the cost of tightening access to abortions in a state she says has far too many restrictions already.
“At this time in Missouri, abortion is one of the most restricted medical procedures,” she said. “We already have enough restrictions, and many of them don’t add to the health or the safety of women… Women’s reproductive freedoms are really being impinged upon. The burden is on women to travel further for care, to go through more hoops.”
Kogut went on to argue that the procedure itself had a high safety record and stated that the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have each denounced increasing restrictions.
“We hate to continue to see restrictions that limit access for women and also put barriers to their health and their safety,” Kogut added.