Missouri House committee considers stricter abortion laws

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 | 8:04 p.m. CST; updated 12:20 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 10, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's law banning the abortion of a viable fetus would be expanded under a measure presented Wednesday to the House Health Care Policy Committee.

The bill, sponsored by House Republican Leader Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, would redefine viability as "a reasonable likelihood the life of the unborn child can be sustained outside the mother's womb with or without official support."

The state currently defines viability as "when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-supportive systems."

"We already have the framework for such a ban currently in our statutes," Jones told the committee.

Current law allows the abortion of a viable fetus only to preserve the life or health of the mother.

"The problem that I have seen though is simply that it does not have truly any teeth in it," Jones said. "It tends to be a bit vague and ambiguous in its interpretation. So, although, one could argue that we already do have a later-term abortion ban in this state, it is not one that is truly effective."

The bill also would change the definition of medical emergencies to be more restrictive. It also would require a second physician, unrelated to the patient or first doctor, to declare it a medical emergency and be present for the procedure.

Samuel Lee, a lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri — one of the state's major anti-abortion organizations — called this portion of the bill a "safeguard" for women. Lee said it would help women who are being encouraged or led to believe that abortion is their only option.

He also said it "frees up the first physician to care for the woman, and the second to care for the child."

But Pamela Sumners, executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri, called the bill unconstitutional, citing a Supreme Court case that said there should be "meaningful life outside the womb."

Sumners said the bill would only affect a small number of abortions in the state.

"Less than 1 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks (of pregnancy)," she said.

Sumners said that since Missouri is the "third most regulated state," there would be more illegal late-term abortions done by physicians "who shouldn't be practicing medicine."

David Sater, chairman of the Health Care Policy Committee, said the committee would vote on the bill as early as next week.

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