JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri doctors and hospitals will face new restrictions and penalties for performing late-term abortions under legislation that Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday decided to let take effect as law without his signature.
The new law is part of a growing trend among states to limit abortions of fetuses that might be able to live outside the womb. But unlike newly enacted laws in several other states, Missouri's proposal still leaves it to doctors to determine viability on a case-by-case basis instead of barring most abortions of fetuses that are at least 20 weeks old.
Nixon cited a section of the Missouri Constitution that allows bills to become law if not signed or vetoed by the governor within 45 days after the Legislature adjourns. That deadline to take action was Thursday.
Missouri law since 1974 has prohibited aborting viable fetuses unless necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman. The new law will delete that general health exception effective Aug. 28. Instead it will allow such abortions only to save the woman's life or when the pregnancy poses a serious risk of permanent physical harm to a major bodily function.
The effect could be to eliminate a woman's mental health as a justifiable reason for aborting a viable fetus — a change which some abortion-rights advocates say could run afoul of previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Missouri is among 31 states that currently have a general health and life exception to their bans on late-term abortions, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. With its new law, Missouri will join Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska as now granting exceptions only for a woman's physical health or life.