JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate gave first-round approval to augment existing abortion informed-consent requirements Thursday. Under the proposed legislation, a physician must provide to a patient the following at least 24 hours before performing an abortion:
- Illustrated handouts from the Department of Health detailing abortion risks and physical characteristics of the unborn child's development in two-week increments, with the statement: "The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being",
- The gestational age of the fetus,
- An opportunity to view an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child,
- Information on available medical assistance and counseling resources,
- Contact information for rape crisis and domestic violence centers, and
- Details on the father's liability for child support
The legislation also dictates that this information must be provided in person, rather than via telephone or Internet communication. An abortion would not be performed until the woman completes a checklist-style form certifying all requirements were met.
Bill sponsor Sen. Robert Mayer, R-Dexter, said the bill ensures women are able to make an informed decision before undergoing an abortion and Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, agreed with Mayer.
"I was very excited [after Thursday's vote]," Rupp said. "It's difficult to get a good pro-life bill through the Senate, and this is a very solid bill."
Rupp also said he felt providing "medical information, ultrasounds, any more information we are giving these mothers to protect the lives of the unborn is a good thing."
Michelle Trupiano, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist based in Columbia, said that by mandating that information be administered in person, the bill effectively forces the Columbia clinic to close family planning services to accommodate pre-procedure consultations.
The center's family planning services are eligible for federal funding, though abortion procedures are not. Consequently, family planning services and abortion procedures cannot be offered on the same day, and an additional day would need to be designated each week for pre-procedure meetings.
The Columbia clinic is one of only two Planned Parenthood clinics in the state that offer on-site abortion procedures. Currently, the clinic offers family planning services four days a week as well as the first two Saturdays of each month. Abortion procedures are available once a week.
Trupiano said the legislation's in-person mandate would "create a huge burden for women."
"Many of them travel from over 100 miles away," she said. "They have to take off of work, arrange for transportation, and since 50 percent of them already have children, they have to find childcare as well. If they have to be there in person 24 hours before, they have to do all of those things twice."
Kathy Forck, campaign director of 40 Days for Life in Columbia, said she is in favor of the legislation.
"This is a really big decision in a woman's life," Forck said. "Anything that can cause a woman to stop and think about the decision is a good thing."
Frock said she felt the in-person requirement was a positive change, and that a woman would feel more comfortable asking questions in that environment.
"When you're talking to a doctor, making a decision that is going to effect you and a baby for the rest of your life and their life, I think it deserves a face-to-face interview."
Forck also mentioned speaking with a young woman who had an abortion and later regretted it.
"I think if she had seen an ultrasound, if she had seen her baby, she would never have gone through with it," Forck said.
Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, said legislators should focus their attention on education and comprehensive sex education programs, rather than restricting abortion rights.
"If we prevented unwanted pregnancies, then we wouldn't be having this debate year after year," Bray said.
Similar legislation in the House includes the restrictions set by the Senate and also expands upon it by creating the crime of coercing an abortion. The legislation would also require clinics to inform county prosecutors when women under the age of 18 seek abortions, with the intent to identify possible rapists.
Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, said the Senate "took at a step in the right direction today."
"I'm confident we'll get a bill on the governor's desk," Pratt said. "We'll work together, and see what we can work out."