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Missouri House passes wide-ranging abortion restrictions

Summer Ballentine//February 28, 2019

Missouri House passes wide-ranging abortion restrictions

Summer Ballentine//February 28, 2019

The Missouri House took steps this week to outlaw most abortions in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, an effort that’s part of a broader Republican push amid renewed optimism that the high court might be more open to increased restrictions, and possibly an outright ban, on the procedure.

The wide-ranging legislation includes other measures that would take effect even if the high court doesn’t overturn its 1973 ruling establishing the nationwide right to abortion. Among the restrictions is a ban on most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, possibly as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Similar bans in Arkansas, Iowa and North Dakota in recent years have been struck down by courts.

Abortion opponents across the U.S. have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, while abortion-rights activists are working to protect the procedure in states where Democrats hold power.

“I am proud that Missouri, the Show-Me State, is showing the rest of the country that we will stick up for the unborn, those precious little children that have no one else to speak for them,” Republican Rep. Sonya Anderson told colleagues on the House floor.

But supporters of abortion rights said the bill goes too far.

“There’s been no combination of such draconian laws and measures,” said Democratic Rep. Cora Faith Walker, adding that she’s “terrified” of the bill.

Missouri’s bill, which includes a so-called trigger ban that would take effect if the high court overturns Roe v. Wade, includes exceptions only for medical emergencies and not for rape or incest. Doctors who violate the law would face a felony charge. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota also have abortion bans that would kick in if Roe v. Wade falls.

Efforts to pass bills limiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected are underway in states including Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, South Caroline and Tennessee. The Missouri bill started out with such a ban, and Republicans loaded it up with a number of other restrictions, including a ban on abortions based on race, sex or an indication of Down syndrome, and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor receives an abortion, with some exceptions.

The measure now heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it’s unclear whether lawmakers will keep all of the proposals.

Sen. Jill Schupp, who along with her Democratic colleagues wields some power in the Republican-led chamber because of individual senators’ ability to filibuster bills, said there will be “strong resistance” to the legislation.

Missouri already has some of the nation’s most restrictive laws on abortions, including a required 72-hour wait for women before they can undergo one. Abortions in the state dropped from 7,413 in 2008 down to about 2,900 in 2018, according to provisional data from the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Nick Schroer, lauded it as “the most sound, comprehensive pro-life bill in the entire U.S.”

Schroer and other Republicans said they were motivated in part after seeing the actions being taken by Democrats in other states.

New York has passed the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies rights laid out in court rulings, including Roe v Wade, which established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is viable, typically around 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. The act states that a woman may abort after 24 weeks of pregnancy if her life or health is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.

A New Mexico bill also would remove a dormant criminal ban on abortion that’s been unenforceable because of the Roe ruling.

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