JEFFERSON CITY — Debate about abortion restrictions divided a crowded hearing room in the state Capitol building on Tuesday evening.
On the left sat those against abortion — a handful of students, advocates from Missouri Right to Life and a former abortion-performing doctor who’d since switched sides.
On the right were those in favor of abortion rights — doctors, medical students and Planned Parenthood advocates.
The Missouri House Committee for Children and Families heard nearly four hours of public testimony over four abortion-related bills. As the night wore on, neither side made any effort to disguise clashing views.
Debate included how much the state is able to constitutionally limit access to abortion and how regulations could hinder doctor-patient relationships and scientific research.
Consent across state lines
Under current statutes, anyone under age 18 in Missouri must have parental consent before having an abortion. House Bill 182, sponsored by Tom Hurst, R-Meta, would extend that requirement to minors traveling out of state for an abortion.
The bill would make it a Class E felony to take a minor across state lines to have an abortion without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.
The goal of the bill, Hurst said, is to ensure parents are involved in the decision to have an abortion. He also said the bill is meant to prevent minors from driving into neighboring states with more lenient abortion regulations, like Illinois.
The only abortion provider in Missouri is the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri in St. Louis.
Opponents of the bill were resistant to mandating communication between minors and their parents, particularly when a minor might be seeking an abortion following abuse or incest. Ellen Shapiro, a counselor in reproductive health services from St. Louis, recalled the tense, strained conversations between some children and their parents when discussing abortion.
“Yes, we would love for all families to have healthy communication, but that’s not the way it works in real life," Shapiro said.
She and other opponents also said additional abortion regulations only "puts minors at risk of taking matters into their own hands,” through at-home abortions. The criminalization of transporting a minor also targeted friends and family, they said.
Hurst sponsored a similar bill during last year's legislative session. It passed in the House but did not become law.
Monitoring fetal tissue
Since 2015, the General Assembly has pushed for tighter laws to prevent the trafficking of aborted fetal tissue. The legislature's efforts followed the release of videos claiming to show Missouri Planned Parenthood representatives selling aborted tissue that year, which launched investigations from both the state House and Senate about how abortion providers dispose of the tissue. An investigation by then-Attorney General Chris Koster’s office found no illegal activity based on the videos.
House Bill 194, which was submitted during the last session as House Bill 2069, would prohibit the donation of fetal tissue that came from an abortion. The bill would also require that all tissue removed during an abortion be sent to a pathologist. Under current statutes, only a sample of tissue is sent.
The bill is sponsored by the committee chair, Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton.
Tissue would be required to go through a physician and pathologist report, and the Department of Health and Social Services would maintain oversight and investigate accordingly. Abortion facilities would also be subject to random inspections by the department.
Supporters of the bill said the provisions would make abortion clinics more transparent and accountable.
Multiple doctors and medical students from Washington University in St. Louis discussed the scientific advancements that come from researching fetal tissue. The bill would not decrease abortions, but it would decrease medical advancements, said Rachel Zigler, an OB-GYN from St. Louis.
On the other hand, Kathi Aultman, a retired obstetrician from Florida, pointed out the medical benefit for women to require all tissue to be documented.
“One of the biggest risks of abortion is leaving retained parts (of conception),” Aultman said.
The bill is similar to Senate Bill 67.
Protection from pain
Both House Bill 908 and 757 would prohibit abortions if a fetus can feel pain, creating the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
“I don’t think anyone should ever be hurt, no matter what stage in life they are,” said sponsor Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson.
The bills place the cut-off at 20 weeks since fertilization. However, legislators divided about which research to trust — a New England Journal of Medicine article saying pain was felt at 20 weeks, or a Journal of the American Medical Association article that claimed 28 weeks.
Valerie French, a obstetrician from Kansas City, said some medical anomalies don’t appear until 18 to 20 weeks. French said she has had several patients who make the decision to have an abortion if it is likely their child would die at birth. Setting the limit to 20 weeks would rush that decision, or prevent women from being able to make it in the first place.
"A politician has no place in my exam room when I’m counseling a patient,” French said.
Lichtenegger said she is sponsoring the bill for her best friend’s daughter, who was in a situation similar to what French described. The woman was told her baby would likely die during childbirth. Lichtenegger said the woman carried the baby to term because she did not want it to feel the pain of an abortion. The baby is now 5.
Missouri would "join the most pro-life states by passing this legislation,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, sponsor of House Bill 757.
Supervising editor is Ellen Cagle.