JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is poised to adopt one of the most restrictive set of anti-abortion laws in the country Friday, the culmination of years of effort by conservative lawmakers and activists.
The House is set to give final approval to the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, and Gov. Mike Parson has made it clear he will sign legislation that restricts abortions in the state.
The version of the bill the governor will sign isn’t as strong as it was a few days ago. To get it through the Senate, Republican leadership compromised on several points with Democrats, though the key elements of the legislation remained largely intact.
The bill initially tied an abortion ban to the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be heard in as little as six weeks, supporters of the bill said. The new bill sets a limit of eight weeks of gestation, with no tie to the heartbeat. One element that did not change was that the the bill makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
After hours of contentious negotiations Wednesday night into early Thursday morning, the Senate voted 24-10 in favor of the bill. When the governor signs it, Missouri will join a growing list of states passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws. Lawmakers in Missouri and throughout the country are hoping that one of their bills makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it could serve as a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Missouri House must act by 6 p.m. Friday, when the 2019 legislative session ends.
Several House Republicans said the version of the bill that passed the Senate represents a victory for those who oppose abortion.
“Last night was a win, and tomorrow will be a win when we get it finished up and sent to the governor’s office,” Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove said. “We were able to walk away with the strong package that supports moms and babies, that protects the unborn children.”
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said he and his colleagues will speak against the bill when the final vote arrives.
“But there’s only so much we can do,” he said.
The changes in the law were a bitter pill for many conservative Republican senators to swallow.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, was the only lawmaker to speak when the Senate reconvened to vote on the bill early Thursday morning. He called it “a shadow of what it once was.”
“We should be ashamed of ourselves, what we’re doing today,” Onder said. “We had a chance to move strongly to protect innocent human life and we gutted significant portions of the bill.”
Onder said he would still vote for the bill because “it’s better than nothing.”
Other Conservative Caucus members said the negotiated bill still leaves their priorities intact.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he was disappointed with the changes but still declared victory.
“We passed the most comprehensive pro-life bill in the history of the state,” Eigel said.
Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said Onder wanted a “pure bill,” but that the caucus is overall satisfied with the compromises. Provisions that did not survive this session will come back in the following years for discussion, O’Laughlin said.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, expressed her disappointment in the lack of this exception, saying it was unacceptable. Schupp and other Senate Democrats voted against the bill, but the changes made in hours of negotiations Wednesday stopped them from filibustering it.
The adopted version of the bill does include something Onder and other abortion opponents wanted. It now includes provisions that give tax credits to those donating to pregnancy resource centers, which provide support to encourage women to keep pregnancies to term.
Anti-abortion lobbyist Samuel Lee said the bill has kept the key components passed in the House, and has the added benefit of the tax credits.
“This will be an incentive for more people to donate larger amounts of money to Missouri’s 72 pregnancy resource centers,” Lee said.
The bill’s abortion ban was initially tied to the fetal heartbeat, as opposed to the revised eight-week ban. Lee said there are benefits to that.
“It doesn’t require a physician to make that determination, it just says at eight weeks abortion will be prohibited,” Lee said.
During a Wednesday evening rally in his office, Parson called limiting abortion “the will of the people.”
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said at the rally that Missouri’s bill is not “designed for a challenge” to Roe v. Wade. “This is the type of legislation that is designed to withstand a challenge.”
The bill contains a “trigger” section, which would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade and would outlaw all abortions except those performed in the case of a medical emergency.
The bill also includes a provision that would require, in addition to written parental consent, written notification to be sent to the other parent or legal guardian prior to a minor receiving an abortion in some cases.
The bill also outlaws abortions performed on the basis of sex, race or Down syndrome status, though it was changed in Wednesday’s negotiations to state that those factors must be the sole reason for the abortion, according to Onder.
A number of abortion rights activists were at the Capitol on Thursday, including Zooey Brewer, a volunteer and an activist for both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, who said she came to express her opposition of the bill.
“I think it’s wrong to deny any woman access to abortion, and I think not including exemptions for rape, incest and human trafficking is re-traumatizing women who have already been through so much,” Brewer said. “Not letting them have control of their bodies when that’s exactly what has been denied to them is horrible.”
Anna Lewis contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.