Abortion coercion bill gets initial OK from Missouri House

Thursday, March 5, 2009 | 7:16 p.m. CST; updated 8:28 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 5, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in the state, and mandate those who provide abortions to supply pregnant women with information on alternatives to the controversial practice, was cleared for final passage in the Missouri House of Representatives on Thursday.

Thursday's vote, 115-41 in favor of the proposal, indicated the bill has support from more than two-thirds of state representatives, the majority needed in the House to begin overriding a gubernatorial veto, should it occur. Seven representatives did not vote. A similar Senate vote would also be needed to override such a veto, according to the Missouri Constitution.

Read the proposed legislation, House Bill 434

Read Missouri law regarding procedure for overriding a veto

In addition to creating a one-day waiting period, the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, would also make it a crime to coerce someone to have an abortion by means such as assault, stalking or threatening to withhold pay.

Pratt said if pregnant women were provided with more information about abortion alternatives, they would be less likely to undergo the procedure.

"I think if you give a woman the opportunity ... to know the name of her doctor, to see ultrasounds, to see their unborn child, to have all the information, it is my belief the passage of this bill will decrease the number of abortions in the state of Missouri, and that's my goal," he said.

Pratt added that he hopes Gov. Jay Nixon will see that passing the bill is "the right thing to do" and sign it, but that if the bill gets over a two-thirds majority, lawmakers still would have the necessary votes to override a possible veto.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said he had no comment as to whether a veto of the bill would be considered.

"This bill, like the others, is a long way from going through the legislative process," he said.

Although Pratt referred to himself during the House session Thursday as a "crazy, right-wing pro-lifer," he said he tried to write the definition of coercion in a way that would appeal to both abortion-rights supporters and abortion-rights opponents.

"To be guilty of the coercion language, what you have to do is, you have to coerce them to have an abortion and also commit assault, commit domestic violence, stalk them," he said. " ... It's not only the mere fact that you have to coerce somebody, you also have to commit another offense under the law to be guilty of this."

Those found guilty of coercing a woman to have an abortion could receive a maximum prison term of up to 10 years, a maximum fine of $10,000 or both.

Opponents of the bill, such as Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the sponsor is more concerned about preventing abortions than protecting a pregnant woman from coercion.

"So while you want them to have the baby, you don't want to help provide for those individuals that decide to keep the child," Nasheed said.

Pratt countered that he thought the welfare program in Missouri was very generous.

"We do have a very strong welfare system — with corporations," Nasheed said. But, she said, "The corporations are getting more welfare than the average mom."

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, sponsored a failed amendment to the bill that would have excluded victims of rape and incest from being affected.

"If this body really cared about coercion and they cared about little girls being coerced, then we wouldn't be talking about abortion," Lampe said. "We'd be talking about rape and incest, and we'd be bringing a bill to this floor that would put some measures in place that would stop it."

Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, said Thursday on the floor that she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She said a girl who had been coerced into having sex shouldn't also be coerced into having an abortion.

"If I was unfortunate enough to become pregnant as a young girl, and I was forced by my mother or father to have an abortion, it would have doubled the personal violation, because I was born pro-life," she said. "And for somebody to destroy a life that I created, that's part of me. To make me do that, well, who would I have left in the world? Who would I have left in the world to trust?"

The bill awaits a final vote from the Missouri House before it can be sent to the state Senate for consideration.

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