Limits on abortion resurface

Monday, May 19, 2008 | 5:26 p.m. CDT; updated 9:29 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Republican gubernatorial candidates Sarah Steelman and Kenny Hulshof each called for new abortion restrictions Monday after lawmakers failed to pass a bill making it illegal to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

Steelman urged the governor to order a special session for the abortion-coercion provision. She also proposed to ban abortions on the basis of gender, deformity or potential disability, though she acknowledged she has no suggestion about how to enforce such restrictions.

While embracing the abortion-coercion legislation, Hulshof stopped short of suggesting the governor call a special session. He also proposed a state program to encourage the collection of umbilical cord blood for stem cell research.

The Republican gubernatorial candidates are appealing to the socially conservative base of the party, which has at times expressed frustration with incumbent GOP Gov. Matt Blunt and some self-described “pro-life” lawmakers.

Blunt, who is from Springfield, is not seeking re-election this year. But the Republicans vying to succeed him are targeting his geographic home base.

Hulshof traveled southwest Monday along Interstate 44 announcing his “pro-life priorities” in Lebanon, Springfield and Joplin. Steelman took a similar route in reverse, announcing her “Life is Precious” initiative in Joplin and then Springfield.

Both announcements came after the Republican-led Missouri legislature adjourned Friday without passing the No. 1 priority of the anti-abortion lobby.

That bill would have made it illegal to try to coerce a woman into having an abortion by abusing, stalking or threatening to fire her, reducing her wages, changing her working environment or taking away her college scholarship.

It also would have required a woman seeking an abortion to be given the option of seeing an ultrasound of the fetus and would have expanded the information required to be given to the woman by the physician performing the abortion.

The legislation passed the House but never came to a vote in the Senate, where some Republican supporters had been negotiating with some Democratic opponents to delete the abortion-coercion provisions.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said some people were concerned about the legality of the coercion provision.

While Planned Parenthood rejoiced, Missouri Right to Life called on Blunt to summon lawmakers back for a special session, as he did when they failed to pass a different abortion bill in 2005.

This year, Blunt had threatened to call a special session only if lawmakers failed to pass restrictions on illegal immigrants or property tax increases. Blunt spokesman Rich Chrismer said Monday that the governor would consider any special session requests after the office is finished reviewing bills, which typically occurs in mid-July.

Steelman’s initiative also includes support for a constitutional amendment banning assisted suicide and legislation shielding pharmacists from having to fill prescriptions that go against their beliefs.

In order to carry out Steelman’s proposed ban on abortions because of gender or disability, a physician would have to know why a woman is seeking an abortion. Steelman did not propose any specific penalty for a physician who performs an abortion in violation of the ban, and she acknowledged that a woman simply could lie about the reason she is seeking an abortion.

“I would want to work with the medical community to figure out the best way to implement such a proposal,” Steelman said.

Hulshof said Steelman’s proposal “would be very difficult to enforce” and seemed to imply that other reasons for abortions were acceptable.

“I’m not sure what’s accomplished by this proposal, and I certainly don’t see how it reduces the number of abortions,” Hulshof said.

Hulshof said his own proposal intended to spur a noncontroversial form of stem cell research — in contrast to debate over certain forms of human embryonic research. If the state were to encourage research using umbilical cord blood, it could be supplemented with federal money, he said.

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