Missouri Legislators Propose 22 Anti-Choice Measures, Pass None

While anti-choice legislation was supposedly not a top priority for lawmakers, the inability to pass any anti-choice proposals might be surprising given Republican majorities of 116-44 in the house and 25-9 in the senate.

While anti-choice legislation was supposedly not a top priority for lawmakers, the inability to pass any anti-choice proposals might be surprising given Republican majorities of 116-44 in the house and 25-9 in the senate. Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

The GOP-led Missouri legislature, despite the more than 20 anti-choice bills introduced in its 2015 session, failed to pass a single bill to restrict reproductive rights. While anti-choice legislation was supposedly not a top priority for lawmakers, the inability to pass any anti-choice proposals might be surprising given Republican majorities of 116-44 in the house and 25-9 in the senate.

Abortion access remains limited across Missouri, with many residents forced to drive hundreds of miles for legal abortion care, even without a single new anti-choice measure pushed through by the state’s Republican supermajority in 2015.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced more than 70 anti-choice bills since 2013, and the state legislature has consistently chipped away at reproductive rights. State lawmakers in 2014 introduced more than 30 bills to restrict reproductive rights—more than any other state. Legislators in 2015 introduced more than 20 anti-choice measures, with only Texas lawmakers introducing more.

Missouri’s anti-choice majority has taken a decidedly different approach than Texas in attacking reproductive rights. Susan Klein, the top lobbyist for Missouri Right to Life, told the Washington Post in March 2014 that anti-choice legislators wanted to introduce bills with specific regulations, as opposed to an omnibus bill like the one passed two years ago in Texas.

This year’s session was by some accounts one of the most challenging legislative sessions in recent memory. It was also marked by scandal, as Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned Friday just days after it was revealed that he had a sexual relationship with a young woman in the Missouri capitol internship program.

Reproductive healthcare is already highly regulated in the state, and in recent years lawmakers have passed legislation to further restrict access. The legislature’s droves of anti-choice policymakers overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a 2014 bill that increased the waiting period before a woman can have an abortion to 72 hours.

Thirteen anti-choice bills introduced in 2015 were referred to committee without any other legislative action taken.

Legislation that never saw a committee hearing included a bill that would have prohibited an a pregnant person from having an abortion unless the male partner provided “written, notarized consent to the abortion.” Another bill would have allowed a court to deny custody of a child and exercise discretion in granting visitation rights if the court found that a parent attempted to coerce the mother of the child into obtaining an abortion.

Among the most notable pieces of legislation that did not receive a hearing was a bill to prohibit so-called “dismemberment abortions,” which would have banned the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure commonly used in second trimester abortion care.

The bill, which was based on legislation drafted by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), included graphic and medically inaccurate language describing the D and E procedure that was key to NRLC’s strategy in passing similar laws in other states with anti-choice legislative majorities. Similar bills were signed into law by the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma, and another has been introduced in South Carolina.

Among the Missouri bills that received committee hearings were two proposals that would amend parental consent laws and further restrict minors’ access to abortion and two bills that would have added requirements to the state’s forced counseling laws.

Another anti-choice bill would have increased the inspection requirements for the state’s lone abortion clinic. State lawmakers have repeatedly targeted the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis with legislation and regulations that could force its closure. The clinic has also been the constant target of anti-choice protests.

Despite the failures of these bills, it is unlikely that the flood of anti-choice legislation will subside in 2016. The introduction of large amounts of legislation in state capitols is part of a national strategy of attrition by anti-choice organizations such as Americans United for Life (AUL), the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), and others.

Missouri lawmakers took votes on two anti-choice bills, both of which were passed by the house.

HB 190, sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau), would have increased the regulation of abortion clinics. The bill would have required the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to do an annual on-site inspection of any facility that performs any second- or third-trimester abortions, or five or more first-trimester abortions per month.

The department would have been required to make its inspection and investigation reports available to the public with redaction of information not subject to disclosure under the law.

HB 190 was passed by the house in a 119-35 vote, but the senate never voted on the measure.

Missouri Right to Life (MRL) released a statement saying members were “profoundly disappointed” that lawmakers failed to approve the bill. “Now we wait for another entire year before women can expect a level of safety that should be guaranteed to them by the State,” said Steve Rupp, president of the anti-choice group.

Planned Parenthood criticized the bill for being unnecessary, as the DHSS is already mandated to inspect health facilities under current law.

HB 684, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), would establish the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act. The bill would have changed the laws allowing the parental or legal custodian of a child to delegate to a lawyer powers regarding the care and custody of the child, except for providing consent to the minor child to have an abortion.

HB 684 was pass by the house in a vote of 123-36, and after receiving a favorable senate hearing was placed on the chamber’s informal calendar. The senate never took up he bill for a vote.

While lawmakers were unable to pass any restrictions on abortion, they once again refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would have given health care to an estimated 300,000 low-income Missourians.

During his January State of the State address, Nixon advocated for the expansion, and called on lawmakers to take action during a speech in March.

Nixon, in a statement released upon the legislature’s adjournment on Friday, said that lawmakers left some major business unfinished. “That includes giving working people access to affordable health care,” he said.