Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers say they’re hopeful new regulations will have a better chance of passing in the 2017 legislative session after such proposals failed to make it through this year.
Abortion-related policies have been popular in the Legislature, where Republicans hold dominating majorities in the House and Senate, and two possible allies for GOP state lawmakers were elected this month: President-elect Donald Trump and Gov.-elect Eric Greitens. Both say they’re anti-abortion, although Greitens didn’t receive an endorsement from Missouri Right to Life.
“The tide has turned for women and babies in the womb,” said Kathy Forck, the director of 40 Days For Life Campaign who regularly protests outside Columbia’s Planned Parenthood clinic.
Abortion legislation took a backseat this year to Senate and House investigations of Planned Parenthood, which were spurred by an undercover video released by anti-abortion activists in 2015 showing the organization’s national medical director discussing the disposition of parts from aborted fetuses. The regional Planned Parenthood CEO said the St. Louis clinic, the only center that provides abortion in the state, does not donate fetal tissue.
Proposed bills that failed last session – including mandated annual health inspections and tracking of fetal tissue from abortions – will have another chance when lawmakers convene in January.
But Alison Dreith, executive director of abortion-rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said Missouri already is one of the most restrictive states in terms of abortion access, and “there’s not really more damage they could do.”
Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican who touted investigations of Planned Parenthood and helped block federal funding to its clinics, said this year is the time to push more restrictions through. He’s drafting another version of a bill requiring abortion clinics to track fetal tissue from surgery to its destruction and researching potential “whistleblower” protections for abortion-clinic employees – a goal for Missouri Right to Life along with annual inspections of abortion clinics.
Dreith countered the reporting proposal, which would increase requirements for abortion clinics, is one of the most concerning to her.
“It might close our last remaining clinic,” Dreith said. “To see increased hoops that providers have to go through that have nothing to do with women’s health is really frightening.”
Between 2011 and 2016, more than 330 abortion restrictions were enacted around the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Democratic lawmakers have said they’ll try to repeal some state regulations on abortion clinics following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that similar Texas laws are unconstitutional, such as requiring abortion doctors to be able to admit abortion patients at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.
But they face an uphill battle moving such proposals forward in a Legislature that has backed regulation as a way to limit abortions.
“I don’t like abortion. I want it out of the state,” said Republican Rep. Andrew Koenig, another GOP leader on abortion investigations. “One avenue is regulation.”
Onder also said Greitens’ election will give the Republican an opportunity to pick a new leader for the Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees abortion clinics.
Bill filing begins Monday.
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