Missouri Senate Panel Advances Abortion Regulations

Summer Ballentine/Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A panel of Missouri senators on Tuesday advanced legislation to create new abortion regulations including annual inspections of clinics requested by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens in his call for a special session focused solely on abortion laws.

Members of the Senate Committee on Seniors, Families and Children voted 4-2 along party lines in favor of a package of proposals that would place new restrictions on abortion clinics. The bill also would nullify a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination in housing and employment based on “reproductive health decisions,” such as abortion or pregnancy. Greitens labeled St. Louis an “abortion sanctuary city” in response.

Republican Sen. Bob Onder said regulations in his omnibus abortion bill are “common-sense health and safety standards to protect Missouri women.”

The proposals could be debated by the full Senate as early as Wednesday, when Greitens is leading an anti-abortion rally at the Capitol and abortion-rights advocates also are demonstrating.

Greitens cited a May ruling by a federal judge that overturned some state abortion laws in his call for the special session.

The ruling, which the state is appealing, invalidated requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri health centers sued over those restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar laws in Texas, ruling those laws sharply reduced the number of abortion clinics there. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs said he followed the high court’s ruling and that Missouri has been denying abortion rights “on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion.”

Also looming are efforts by regional Planned Parenthood organizations hoping to offer abortions in Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin and Springfield.

Before advancing Onder’s bill, the Senate committee first took out new proposals requested by Greitens that were not pitched by lawmakers last session. Those included a ban on abortion clinic staff members asking ambulances to drive without emergency lights or sirens and a requirement that clinics submit plans for dealing with complications from abortions to the state’s health department.

A provision to ban the St. Louis ordinance still is in the bill, along with provisions to give the state attorney general the authority to prosecute violations of abortion laws and more requirements how reports on fetal tissue are handled.

Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican who is sponsoring another bill that advanced Tuesday to nullify the St. Louis ordinance, said leaving the local law in place could mean alternatives-to-abortion agencies are forced to hire people who support abortion rights or mean landlords face renting to abortion facilities.

St. Louis resident Robin Utz slammed efforts to undo her city’s ordinance. She said she had an abortion this year after doctors said her daughter had a fatal disease that meant her lungs would not work and that would cause her pain as she developed in the womb. Utz said carrying her daughter longer “felt beyond cruel.”

As she sat next to Onder, who is her allergist, Utz said the legislation to end the St. Louis ordinance “allows people to decline to ever hire me or support me in any way because of my beliefs that we did the right thing.”

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