Bill proposes removing limits for abortion lawsuits

Thursday, February 7, 2008 | 7:58 p.m. CST; updated 11:33 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Doctors providing abortions could face higher lawsuit liabilities under an anti-abortion measure working its way through Missouri’s legislature.

Missouri’s current law imposes a $350,000 limit on non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The bill, recently presented to the House Judiciary Committee, would exempt abortions from that limit.

“I want to protect young, vulnerable women,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Muschany, R-St. Louis County, in an interview after the committee hearing. Muschany said that while there might not be economic damages with an abortion, a woman can suffer “considerable pain and suffering damages.”

Muschany cited the inability to have children as an example. “Not being able to have kids doesn’t affect a person economically,” Muschany said, adding that it would affect a woman emotionally.

But Rep. Michael Vogt, D-St. Louis, a member of the Judiciary Committee, charged that there was another motivation. “What they’re trying to do here is drive up the medical malpractice insurance rates for those that provide abortions in the hope that will run them out of business.”

The bill brought several different groups to the Capitol to testify, including representatives from Planned Parenthood, Missouri Right to Life, the Missouri Catholic Conference and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The whole intent is transparent,” said John Coffman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri. “They want to make it so intolerable to perform one type of procedure as to not want to do it. It has nothing to do with the health and safety of women.”

Some committee members questioned if the bill would result in forcing women to seek abortion services from less qualified practitioners.

But Muschany said that if any doctors quit their practice because of his bill, it would be the bad doctors because they are at risk of being sued, not good doctors.

Susan Klein testified on the behalf of Missouri Right to Life. “Every woman going for an abortion should have the right to sue if she has a botched abortion,” Klein said.

Vogt argued that the bill may limit women’s health care choices, especially in a situation where the abortion is necessary rather than elective. “In the eyes of the civil justice systems, a doctor may not perform an abortion that is necessary to protect the life of the mother, because he’ll be subject to more serious liability than any other service.”

“It’s just one more obstacle to throw in the face of doctors who provide a safe, legal procedure that some women want,” said Michelle Trupiano from Planned Parenthood Affiliates in Missouri. “It’s discriminatory and violates the equal protection law. Abortion providers would not have equal protection under law.”

Coffman said that if the bill passes, “the ACLU will challenge this proposal in court.”

As of 2004, women under age 24 received almost 50 percent of abortions in Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Women age 20 to 24 were the largest group of seeking an abortion, at 33.8 percent.

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