JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Supporters and opponents of abortion rallied Wednesday at the Missouri Capitol as a special session of the Legislature considered new restrictions in a state that already has some of the nation’s toughest abortion laws.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who called state lawmakers back to the Capitol for the second special session this summer, led an anti-abortion rally in support of proposed new measures such as mandatory annual health inspections of clinics.
He also spoke strongly in favor of nullifying a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” such as abortion, saying it made the heavily Democratic city “an abortion sanctuary city.”
“We’ve got to raise our voices together and tell them, `Not on our watch,”’ he told a crowd of roughly 200, many of whom held signs that read “protect life.”
Before that, roughly 200 abortion-rights advocates gathered in the Rotunda for a mock “People’s Special Session” in protest. Participants then taped signs with messages such as “Trust Women” outside Greitens’ Capitol office a tactic he used against legislative opponents during the last special session he called.
“It feels so unfair,” said Ellen Schapiro, a 63-year-old resident of suburban St. Louis who volunteers at Planned Parenthood and attended the rally in the Rotunda. “If men got pregnant, they wouldn’t probably restrict it like this.”
Missouri is among the most restrictive states on abortion. For example, Missouri is one of only five states that requires women to wait 72 hours after receiving counseling before getting an abortion, which according to the Guttmacher Institute is the nation’s longest waiting period. The institute is a national organization that supports abortion rights.
Missouri also already bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions, one of 17 states with that limit.
Greitens said he called the special session in reaction to a St. Louis ordinance banning discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” and a federal judge’s ruling that struck down some Missouri abortion restrictions passed by previous legislative sessions.
The ruling, which the state is appealing, tossed out Missouri requirements that doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. Greitens wants lawmakers to enact other restrictions on clinics in place of those that were struck down.
Also pending are applications by regional Planned Parenthood agencies to the health department seeking to get licenses to provide abortions in Columbia, Joplin, Kansas City and Springfield. Planned Parenthood now only offers the procedure in St. Louis.
Proposed bills approved by a Senate panel Tuesday would require annual abortion clinic inspections, new authority for the attorney general to prosecute violations of abortion law and a requirement that the state health department review fetal-tissue reports from abortions.
Some Missouri Republican lawmakers have been trying to pass more stringent laws dealing with fetal tissue since the 2015 release of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists, who said the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue. Planned Parenthood officials have said clinics in the state do not participate in fetal-tissue donation programs.
Proposed measures also would nullify the St. Louis ordinance, which bans discrimination in housing and employment based on abortions, pregnancies and other reproductive decisions.
The St. Louis alderwoman who sponsored the ordinance has said it wasn’t sparked by any specific case or current law but as a way for the city to stake out its opposition to future laws enacted in Missouri, where Republicans now control all corners of government.
All of the proposals now pending in the Senate failed to pass during lawmakers’ annual session that ended in May.
The Missouri Senate committee stripped new proposals, including a ban on abortion clinic workers asking ambulances to drive without lights or sirens, from the legislation before sending it forward. Seniors, Families and Children Committee Chairman David Sater said the goal was to strike out legislation that wasn’t vetted previously.
Pushback on the GOP-sponsored abortion regulations is expected by Senate Democrats, who have the power to stall a vote using extended debate in what’s called a filibuster.
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