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Sweeping anti-abortion bill given final legislative approval

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In a near silent chamber — only interrupted by a few outbursts from onlookers — lawmakers in the Missouri House had their say about a bill limiting access to abortions.

Representatives listened intently as their colleagues laid out the statistics that contributed to their view points and shared extraordinarily personal stories, often not keeping the tears at bay.

Near the end of the debate, onlookers started chanting, “When you lie, people die.” After being reprimanded multiple times for breaking decorum, they were asked to leave the upper galleries.

Ultimately, the chamber truly agreed and finally passed HB 126, championed by Rep. Nick Schroer and Sen. Andrew Koenig, with a vote of 110-44. The bill was given Senate approval early Thursday morning with a 24-10 vote.

The law bans abortions after eight weeks and doesn’t allow for exemptions for rape or incest survivors. It includes provisions for abortion bans at 14, 18, and 20 weeks. The bill makes it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion.

Additionally, it doesn’t allow for abortions based on race, sex, or a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Both parents of a minor would need to sign off on an abortion procedure under the bill.

Should Roe v. Wade — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared a woman’s constitutional right to privacy includes medical decisions such as abortion — be overturned, abortions would be illegal outright in Missouri, a state that already only has one clinic.

Propopents said the bill was not designed to challenge Roe v. Wade. Rep. Martha Stevens called that claim “disingenuous.” Each provision in the measure is severable — meaning if one provision gets struck down, others would still be in effect.

“It is made to withstand judicial challenges,” said Schroer. “If and when that fight comes, we will be fully ready.”

Proponents argued the bill is necessary to protect life in Missouri. In a rare move, House Speaker Elijah Haahr stepped up to the microphone and spoke in favor of the bill.

“This is an incredibly personal issue. This is an incredibly passionate issue,” said Haahr. “We have spent four and a half months standing up for the innocent, standing up for the infirm, and standing up for the unborn.”

One of the architects of the bill, Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, said, “our freedom cannot be bought with the blood of our children.”

Rep. Holly Rehder argued in favor of the bill. While getting emotional at times, the senior lawmaker shared the story being pregnant, and occasionally homeless, at just 15 years old. She became a mother when she was just 16.

“I’ve lived it. And this bill is still the right thing to do,” she said.

While the votes in both chambers were mostly along party lines, one Republican lawmaker voted against the bill.

“I really struggled with this one,” said GOP Rep. Shamed Dogan.

He noted he is pro-life and believes in limiting abortions. However, without exceptions for rape or incest his constituents “think this is going to far,” he said.

Opponents to the measure consistently decried the lack of exceptions for rape or incest. Rep. Greg Razer pointed to the widely publicized case of an 11-year-old girl who became pregnant after she was raped.

“If you can force an 11-year-old girl to carry her [rapist’s] baby to term … that is not pro-life,” he said.

Rep. Ian Mackey raised concerns that based on the language, the woman who had a miscarriage could end up defending herself from a felony in court.

Others took the angle of giving examples of how they felt the state does not help citizens once they are born. Some pointed to the number of children dropped from Mo HealthNet program in the last year (roughly 55,000), the high maternal mortality rate, and the number of children currently living in poverty (50.7 percent).

“If we believed in life, we would expand Medicaid. If we believed in life, we would end the death penalty. If we believed in life, I would not be afraid to have a child,” said Rep. Cora Faith Walker. “It is not hyperbole, it is reality.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.


Pro-choice activists storm the Capitol following the passage of a sweeping anti-abortion bill. (KAITLYN SCHALLHORN/THE MISSOURI TIMES)

The only disruption during the debate came when protesters booed, or clapped, or chanted following lawmaker’s statements. After several decorum warnings they were removed from the upper galleries.

The protesters then started walking the halls while chanting — which occasionally could still be heard in each chamber — finally ending up outside the governor’s officer. On the second floor of the Capitol, they chanted “veto.”

Hovis apologizes for comment

Rep. Barry Hovis has said he misspoke on the House floor and apologized for the comments he made.

In the middle of a inquiry, the freshman Republican said night rapes are not men jumping out of bushes rather, “most of them are date rapes or consensual rapes, which are all terrible.”

Following the comments, he said it was a sensitive issue and was trying to articulate a point but misspoke. Hovis said he apologized to his colleagues — and will continue to do so — for misspeaking.

“I’m truly sorry. I don’t believe there is such a thing as consensual rape,” Hovis told the Missouri Times.  

Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.