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Missouri Senate Republicans Could Block New Abortion Restrictions

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens takes questions from the media after an anti-abortion rally at the Statehouse in Jefferson City on June 14, 2017. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) should get some of what he wanted. The state’s legislature is on track to undo what St. Louis aldermen did in February. And, as far as Greitens is concerned, the rights of pro-life clinics will now be protected statewide.

But pro-choice groups warn the legislature, acting on Greitens’ behest, has legalized discrimination against women who receive abortions and abortion clinics.

However, Greitens wanted more than just to stop the St. Louis ordinance. He also pushed for legislation that would restore the Missouri abortion regulations that were struck down by a federal judge.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, who want to erase the St. Louis ordinance, might not be willing to grant Greitens’ wish for the stricter regulations.

The Missouri House has approved legislation that not only repeals the St. Louis anti-discrimination ordinance that covered abortion patients and clinics, but includes new requirements for pathologists who work with abortion clinics. The legislative package also would give the state health department new powers for yearly, unannounced inspections and investigations of abortion clinics.

The Guttmacher Institute, an organization that supports abortion rights, already considers Missouri to be one of the most restrictive states on abortion.

If the House-approved legislation does make it through the Senate relatively unscathed, Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life, told the AP, “It would be the biggest change in Missouri’s abortion laws in at least 10 years and possibly since 1986.”

The House legislation now goes back to the Senate where an earlier vision of the bills did not give the state health department such sweeping powers.

Greitens called for a special legislative session so lawmakers could finish what they had started — approving a new law that superseded a St. Louis ordinance that was meant to protect abortion patients and the people who provide the procedure, along with legislation that included the more restrictive abortion regulations.

As PJM reported, the St. Louis ordinance, which was approved Feb. 10, set up abortion providers and women who received abortions as a class of people protected from discrimination.

Greitens, when he called for the special legislative session June 7, said the ordinance actually established St. Louis as “an abortion sanctuary city where pregnancy care centers can’t work the way they’re supposed to.”

“Politicians are trying to make it illegal, for example, for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians,” Greitens added.

Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said Greitens’ call for a special legislative session was nothing but “an appalling example of out-of-touch priorities.”

“Make no mistake about it, the intent behind the governor’s actions is to shame women for their personal medical decisions and make basic reproductive healthcare harder to access,” Dreith said.

Rep. Diane Franklin (R) said the House version used the Senate-approved legislation, which was a “good framework but did not meet the governor’s call.”

“So we put in provisions that helped provide for the health and safety of women,” Franklin told the Kansas City Star.

Democratic Rep. Crystal Quade said the health and safety of women had nothing to do with the Republican-sponsored package.

“There were amendments offered dealing with healthcare issues for women and kids, but we weren’t allowed to include those on this bill,” Quade said.

The House-approved legislation will be at the top of the calendar next week when the full Senate is expected to return. Democrats said they were not about to cave to Gov. Greitens.

“This feels like a political stunt to many of us,” Rep. Peter Merideth (D) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s being sold as an effort to show how pro-life the governor is.”

It isn’t only Senate Democrats who are uncomfortable with the House-approved abortion legislation.

Sen. Jason Holsman (D) told the Missourian the bill sent to the House was the product of bipartisan compromise.

“Despite my adamant and vehement beliefs that we are unconstitutionally seated, nonetheless we have worked together on this bill,” Holsman said.

Sen Andrew Koenig (R) agreed the bill didn’t give him and his fellow Republicans everything they wanted. But he felt it was the best deal available.

“There are certainly some things in here that definitely got watered down … and we’re taking those concessions,” said Koenig.

If the governor is playing politics with the abortion issue, some Republican senators, angered by Greitens’ call for a special session, complained they didn’t like the way Greitens was playing the game.

“I don’t think we should be here,” Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, said. “It’s certainly clear the governor doesn’t have any respect for this process.”