House Committee approves bill to tighten abortion laws

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 | 7:14 p.m. CST; updated 5:04 p.m. CST, Sunday, February 20, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill to create more abortion restrictions passed almost unanimously in the House Health Care Policy Committee on Wednesday.

One representative voted against the bill, which would redefine the viability of a fetus and increase the number of doctors involved in an abortion procedure.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, the bill's sponsor, said he was glad the bill was voted forward as he expected.

If passed into law, the legislation would change the definition of a viable fetus from one whose life can be "continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life-supportive systems" to a fetus whose life can simply be "sustained" using those systems.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, was the only committee member who voted against the bill. Her concerns include the welfare of the doctors involved in the abortions.

"I felt that the penalties that were being assessed on doctors and on hospitals were very severe, and the effect that might have would be to intimidate doctors into not taking the kind of actions that the woman or the couple wanted," McNeil said. "This could be especially problematic in instances where the child had fetal abnormalities, and, therefore, the doctor might choose not to do an abortion that was wanted because he didn't want to be caught in a situation where he might be found guilty of something in regard to viability."

President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region, Paula Gianino, called the legislation unnecessary, saying it refers to a problem that doesn't exist.

"Planned Parenthood complies with every state law so we do not provide abortions post viability," Gianino said. "These are procedures that are exceedingly rare and usually occur in major hospital settings because something has gone terribly wrong."

Gianino echoed McNeil's concerns regarding physicians.

"(The law)does not impact us; however, the intention of this law to make physicians afraid and to discourage physicians from providing care in the most dire circumstances," Gianino said. "It's really unconscionable. Physicians who are helping women are doing their very best to take care of their patients. The last thing anyone in this state needs is to be afraid to act. It creates a climate of uncertainty and fear for physicians."

Campaign Director of 40 Days for Life, Kathy Forck, said she is in favor of stricter abortion laws. Her organization protests abortions outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia.

"This bill is there to not only help the unborn child but also to help the mother," Forck said.

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