Missouri’s House of Representatives on Friday, May 17, passed House Bill 126, known as the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with an exception for medical emergencies but not for cases of rape or incest. Missouri’s Republican-led Senate also passed the bill last week.
Gov. Mike Parson is expected to sign the bill into law. During a press conference May 15, he promised to continue to promote “a culture of life in Missouri.”
“Thanks to leaders in the House and Senate, we have the opportunity to be one of the strongest pro-life states in the country,” Parson said.
The bill’s language declares Missouri and its political subdivisions a “sanctuary of life,” and makes it a felony for any person who knowingly performs or induces an abortion outside of what’s allowed under the law.
While a woman who has an unlawful abortion under the legislation will not be prosecuted, medical professionals who perform an abortion after the cut-off period could face five to 15 years in prison.
Rep. Doug Richey, a Republican representing part of Clay County including parts of Liberty and around Kearney in District 38, called HB126 good legislation.
“I voted ‘yes’ on 126 because I do believe it will save lives. ... I think it’s a responsible way to address the needs of the unborn,” he said, adding in 2017, roughly 4,000 abortions were performed in Missouri on pregnant woman further along than eight weeks. Under the new law, he said, those lives will be saved.
Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat representing much of Clay County in District 17 who voted against the bill, said the measure is extreme. The bill provides that if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, a total ban automatically goes into effect in Missouri, she said.
“Missouri’s new law puts the health of women at risk. I have heard from many women who had to make very difficult, very personal decisions to protect their own lives and to ensure they would be around to raise their children. Likewise, the government shouldn’t be mandating whether a rape victim must carry her rapist’s child. We should trust women to make those important decisions. Believe me, women are capable.”
When asked if eight weeks is enough time for women to decide on an abortion as some do not learn of pregnancy until that cut-off period, Richey said the law was crafted not based on the timeline of when women may learn they are pregnant but medical science that indicates when a detectable heartbeat is present.
“We’re not talking about women making a decision to remove an organ or an appendage, we’re talking about the life and body of another individual. Babies have a unique DNA code, they are distinct from the mother. Obviously they are dependent upon the mother during that gestation period, but they are a separate individual,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood vowed to challenge the ban in court. If courts block the eight-week ban, the bill has built-in concessions of less-restrictive limits that would prohibit abortions at 14, 18 or 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Gov. Parson is willfully aiding in the systematic downturn of health outcomes across our state and banning safe, legal abortion is just the latest effort,” said M’Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri in a statement. “Shame on him for suggesting the government should have a say in when and whether someone becomes a parent.”
“For anyone concerned about accessing the health care they need, please know our doors are open,” states a Planned Parenthood Facebook post. “Abortion is still legal in Missouri. If you need abortion services, please make an appointment with Reproductive Health Services at reproductivehealthservices.org.”
Arthur said the law is out of line with what most Americans want.
“Only 18%, according to Gallup, want a complete ban. Those 18% are well-represented in Jefferson City. That other 82% are not. It is a personal decision that may need to be made because a woman has other children to raise. It’s a personal choice.”
Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Democrat in District 15 which covers most of Gladstone, said the Missouri General Assembly joined Alabama in passing the most extreme anti-choice law in the nation.
“It is without question unconstitutional and every person who voted for it today knows it,” he wrote in a Facebook post after the measure passed in the House. “I respect the sincerely held beliefs of others, and abortion is a challenging, complicated and personal issue. For me, the right vote today couldn’t have been clearer: a resounding and unequivocal no.”
Carpenter said he wants to see every child have some sort of health care, adequate food and education.
“We aren’t getting it done in Missouri or in America,” he said. “These issues should be a big part of our focus on public policy. It’s a place where everyone should be able to find common ground.”
Richey said the abortion law provides for tax credits to resource centers, adding this session the General Assembly also increased funding for a plethora of social services and the criminal justice system including public defenders, health care for low-income families and education through funding of the formula.
“That doesn’t even touch on the reality that there is significant work being done by nonprofits and other entities outside of state funding that are looking to help people who are struggling and who are in need. I’m glad that we do live in a state that is pro-life but that is clearly compassionate in the way that it operates, not only in word but in deed.”