House debates anti-abortion bill

Thursday, September 15, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House began debate Wednesday on the primary issue of the special session -- a bill imposing new restrictions on abortion physicians and allowing lawsuits against people who help teens get abortions without parental consent.

The Senate passed the measure last week after hours of debate, mostly from abortion rights advocates.

The legislature has a solid anti-abortion majority, but no bill passed during the regular session that ended in May. The breakdown came over concerns by Gov. Matt Blunt and some researchers that language in the wide-ranging bill would dampen stem cell research.

A few worries

Blunt called lawmakers back to try again. He narrowly drafted the special session's call to include only a few provisions and not get into stem cell research.

Still, Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, worried during debate Wednesday that the wording could hamper research. The bill makes it a felony for anyone other than a physician to perform or induce an abortion. State law defines abortion, in part, as "the intentional destruction of the life of an embryo or fetus in his or her mother's womb."

Johnson suggested that a scientist using discarded embryos for research could face a felony charge.

"That would chill life science research in Missouri," he said.

But lawmakers supporting the bill and the Missouri Catholic Conference said the changes in the bill would not affect stem cell research.

Other lawmakers worried the measure could make charges possible against pharmacists who fill prescriptions for certain kinds of birth control.

The key provision of the bill allows parents to sue people who help their minor daughters get abortions in violation of Missouri's parental consent law.

The measure also requires doctors performing abortions to have hospital privileges within 30 miles and disqualifies anyone with a financial interest in an abortion from serving as a minor's "next friend." Such people help minors seeking a court exemption from the parental consent requirement. The change is aimed at excluding people who work or volunteer for abortion clinics.

Protesting the bill

While the House debated the abortion legislation, about 150 abortion rights advocates from around Missouri rallied on the Capitol lawn. Most were women, and many carried protest signs.

"I'm very disgusted with what our legislature is doing to women's rights," said Maureen Carmack, 56, of Lee's Summit.

, a massage therapist holding a "Shame on Gov. Blunt" sign.

Springfield residents Joan Collins, 68, and Mildred Rutan, 71, traveled to the Capitol on a bus with other demonstrators. They worried about family planning rights for their granddaughters and the effect the legislation could have on the Springfield Health Care Center.

"I think this legislation will effectively shut down the abortion clinic in Springfield," said Rutan, a retired nurse carrying a "Freedom Choice" poster. "It will certainly decrease drastically women's choices."

Some Democrats in the House also said the Legislature should focus its efforts on preventing unwanted pregnancies rather than enacting more abortion restrictions.

"We need to have education, we need to have healthy family planning," said Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis.

House passage of the measure would send it to Blunt. Planned Parenthood and the Springfield clinic said they were prepared to quickly file lawsuits challenging the law.

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