Missouri GOP legislators emboldened by Trump

A Wave of Anti-Abortion Laws Is About to Hit This State

GOP legislators in Missouri have been emboldened by Trump.

By Hannah Levintova  MotherJones   01/5/2017

In November’s election, Republican Eric Greitens was elected to replace Democrat Jay Nixon as governor, making Missouri one of four states with a new trifecta in which the GOP controls all branches of government. Wasting no time, Missouri lawmakers prefiled 14 anti-abortion bills for the legislative session that started Wednesday.

The proposals include a personhood bill, religious liberty protections for crisis pregnancy centers, several measures blocking fetal tissue research, a chemical endangerment bill, and a bill regarding fetal burial similar to those passed this year in Indiana and Texas.

“I believe that the Republican leadership wants to focus on other issues that are priorities,” says Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri. “But the legislators who are obsessed with further restricting access to abortion…are emboldened by the new Republican trifecta. They might be emboldened by the new Trump presidency.”

In Missouri, it is not unusual for lawmakers to prepare many abortion bills before the legislative session begins, but since 2014 lawmakers have never prefiled more than 10 bills. “This legislative session is going to be the fight of our lives,” said Elise Higgins, interim director of public policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the regional affiliate that provides care in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

The state has a long history of curbing access to abortion. Between 2011 and 2015, political pressure and abortion restrictions shut down four providers, and now only one abortion clinic remains to serve Missouri’s more than 2 million women. Year after year, legislators have filed dozens of anti-abortion proposals—31 in 2014, 27 in 2015, and 28 last year—with mixed success. The Show-Me State has also been a testing ground for new approaches to restricting abortion—a legacy that dates back to the 1989 Webster case decided by the Supreme Court. That ruling, which upheld a Missouri abortion law, allowed states to impose far more restrictions on abortion care than had previously been permitted under Roe v. Wade. This is what gives the current list of measures potential for national consequences.

Here are the bills that have been proposed so far:

•    HB58: The bill would require the state’s health department to rank facilities that deal with maternal care and high-risk pregnancies and would prohibit the department from considering facilities’ rates of abortion or referral for abortion in these rankings. In practice, this means the facilities designated as those with the best care may in fact not offer abortion or present it as an option to patients.

•    HB112: This measure relates to custody disputes over embryos conceived by in-vitro fertilization and, if passed, would require courts to grant custody to those parties who intend to gestate the embryos, rather than the party intending to dispose of them. Courts could no longer issue judgments in custody disputes that permit embryos to be terminated or “kept indefinitely in an environment in which it does not develop or grow.” Advocates consider this a personhood measure. “One could argue that if you’re giving personhood protections to frozen embryos, that would apply to other areas of law,” says M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri—an advocacy group. The provision is also worrisome to groups focused on infertility and assisted reproductive technologies because of the unforeseen consequences it could create for embryos conceived through IVF.

•    HB147: This bill would require women who have had abortions to choose how the fetal remains are disposed of, including the option of cremation or burial, and mark their choice on a specific health department form. NARAL’s Dreith considers this one measure that, if passed, could reverberate nationally. In 2016, both Indiana and Texas passed bills requiring that fetal remains from abortions be interred or cremated, but both bills were temporarily blocked by federal judges. (The latest hearing regarding the Texas bill began on Tuesday.) Missouri’s proposal is different because it doesn’t require fetal remains to be cremated or buried—instead it offers these methods among a list of disposal options, and simply requires women who have abortions to choose from the list. This concession, Dreith says, “is not as ugly on the public service level…[but] this bill could be replicable in other states that don’t want to be as vulgar as Texas.”

•    HB174 and SB41: These two bills—filed simultaneously in the House and Senate—would provide free speech and religious liberty protections for crisis pregnancy centers. Often unregulated, these facilities are usually religiously affiliated and discourage women from having abortions, frequently by touting medically inaccurate claims about abortion, including that abortion causes breast cancer or that it causes psychological damage.

•    HB182: This measure makes it a felony for an adult to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion, with an exception for parents or adults who have obtained consent from a minor’s parents.

•    HB194 and SB67: These bills would make it illegal to donate fetal tissue to any kind of research. Fetal tissue has been critical to medical advancements in many realms, from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to the polio vaccine. This bill would also complicate the disposal of fetal tissue, requiring a multistep process that would culminate in a report prepared by the health department for the Missouri General Assembly that includes data on every fetal tissue disposal that took place in the state.

•    HB252: The bill would make it a crime for a woman to use narcotics or a controlled substance without a prescription if she is pregnant or she “knows or reasonably should have known” that she is pregnant. The crime would be classified as a felony of “endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree,” which is punishable by up to four years in prison, according to Missouri law.

•    HB326: This would require notification of both parents when a minor seeks an abortion, in addition to consent by one parent, which is already required by Missouri law.

•    SB15: This bill reauthorizes existing state tax credits for those making charitable donations to maternity homes and crisis pregnancy centers.

•    SB96: This measure would make it a misdemeanor for doctors to perform abortions on women who are seeking the procedure due to the sex, race, or Down syndrome diagnosis of the fetus.

•    SB196: This bill would give the state attorney general jurisdiction to enforce abortion laws—a power that is currently held by county-level prosecutors. This measure was last attempted by Missouri lawmakers in 2014. The bill’s return follows November’s election of Josh Hawley as Missouri’s attorney general. Hawley was a member of the legal team that argued Burwell v. Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court in 2014—the case that cemented an exception for religious employers from the Affordable Care Act’s required contraceptive coverage. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Andrew Koenig, did not respond to a request for comment about whether this bill’s introduction and Hawley’s election are related.

•    SB230: This would require an abortion facility providing contact information for an out-of state abortion clinic to also provide documents about informed consent. These include information about possible fetal pain during abortion (scientific consensus is that such fetal pain claims are false), alternatives to abortion, and child support requirements for fathers.

In the past, most of the anti-abortion bills proposed have not become law, blocked at times by Missouri’s Democratic governor. Missouri’s new governor, Greitens, has not been vocal about his views on abortion, beyond noting that he is pro-life on his campaign website. But should bills cross his desk, advocates like Dreith believe he is likely to sign them. “I don’t think abortion is a major priority for him,” Dreith said. “But the anti-choice Republicans we have in our Legislature will be emboldened by Trump and by knowing that they have a governor that is probably going to support them in their efforts should something pass.”