The Missouri House of Representatives voted 117-39 Wednesday to send the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act to the Senate.
The bill approved by the House Feb. 27 would ban most abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.
State Representative Nick Schroer, the bill's sponsor, told CNA in an interview that his bill started out as a simple "Heartbeat Bill" that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He said courts have thrown out similar bills in the past in other states, including last month in Iowa. Still, he expressed confidence about this bill’s chances.
"The climate has changed to encourage bills like this to be refiled," Schroer said. "And we've seen that throughout the nation, with strong pro-life bills being filed."
For this reason, Schroer, a Catholic and an attorney by trade, said he worked with fellow lawyers to craft the bill so that it would stand up to judicial scrutiny.
"We looked at a bunch of case law and worked with attorneys on this," Schroer said.
"What we tried to do is craft legislation which, number one, would save as many lives as possible; number two, continue to help promote the betterment of the health, the well-being of the mother and everyone involved; but number three, if this were to go into the courts, which we are fairly confident that [Democrats] are drafting their petition right now, we wanted something that is going to withstand judicial scrutiny and be upheld in our courts."
State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman's amendment to the bill modified it to include either heartbeat or brain function, roughly at the eight-week period, which would prevent abortions if either can be detected in the fetus. Schroer said if for some reason the district court throws out that provision, then the bill would still include a 14 week ban. He said roughly two-thirds of abortions in Missouri take place before 10 weeks.
If the court were to throw out the 14 week ban, then the bill would still be able to prevent abortions at 18 weeks, Schroer said, because at that stage a doctor must certify that the baby has not reached the stage where they can feel pain. If that provision is then thrown out, then abortions would still be banned at 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Other provisions included in the bill would change the law on parental notification to require that both parents be notified about a minor seeking an abortion. In addition, another provision would prohibit certain "selective" abortions relating to a diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or even the race or sex of a baby.
"For me as a Catholic, for me being pro-life, this is common sense to me," Schroer said.
In terms of the bill's next steps, Schroer says he is confident about its chances in the state Senate. The Democratic minority has the power to filibuster the bill, he said, which they are likely to do, but the Republican supermajority could invoke the so-called "nuclear option" to counter a filibuster.
"I think [the nuclear option] should be administered when we have lifesaving measures on the table like this," Schroer said.
He said he has seen some support among Missouri lawmakers for abortion legislation, similar to what has been passed or proposed in New York and Virginia, radically to expand access to abortion.
"The majority of people in Missouri have made their voice heard loud and clear when it comes to pro-life issues by electing these pro-life legislators that I serve with," Schroer said.
"For those that aren't pro-life or have no opinion…life is the most important aspect of what we do down here in Jefferson City. Everything we do impacts life in some way. shape, or form. For this bill, which protects life at the very early stages, I think that should be important to anyone."
Rep. Steve Butz, a Democrat from St. Louis, was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying that the bill would not eliminate abortion in Missouri because women could simply cross the border into Illinois. Planned Parenthood of Illinois recently said they have no plans to drop any of its services in the state, after the Trump administration implemented a new rule to place restrictions on the use of Title X funds.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that since peaking at more than 20,000 per year in the 1980s, in 2017 the annual number of abortions in Missouri had dropped to fewer than 7,000. Missouri is down to one abortion provider in the state, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia is still blocked from performing abortions, with a U.S. District judge last week refusing to allow abortions to resume at that clinic. Abortions ended there during October 2018 after the facility failed to adhere to state rules, and its state license to perform abortions expired Oct. 3.
Missouri passed regulations in 2017 which granted the state attorney general more power to prosecute violations, and required stricter health codes and proper fetal tissue disposal. The new rules also required that doctors have surgical and admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. The local hospital in Columbia has since 2015 refused to grant admitting privileges to Planned Parenthood.
The effort to restrict the practice of abortion in largely Republican-led Missouri come amid pushes in other states, such as New York and Vermont, to pass laws expanding abortion access, amid prospects that the Supreme Court may soon overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.