After weeks of waiting, the Senate met Tuesday afternoon to take up and pass the House version of legislation (HCS SB 5) that is meant to better ensure the health and safety of women by putting common sense safety requirements in place for abortion clinics. The bill now approved by both chambers is also designed to protect pregnancy resource centers from a city ordinance the governor says has made St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city.
The extraordinary session to consider the pro-life bill began on June 12 with a call from Governor Eric Greitens. The Senate passed legislation and sent it to the House, and House members quickly responded by strengthening the bill and sending it back to the other side of the building. The Senate then took several weeks off before finally bringing up the bill and passing it this week. During the time the Senate halted its activity, the governor revised his extraordinary session call to ask the legislature to pass the bill in the strengthened form approved by the House.
The bill that now goes to the governor’s desk to be signed into law contains several provisions to protect the health and safety of women. Some of the main provisions of the bill will:
• Allow the attorney general to prosecute violations of state abortion laws with no obligation to first inform local prosecutors;
• Require the physician who is to perform an abortion to inform the woman orally and in person of the immediate and long-term medical risks associated with the proposed method of abortion 72 hours prior to the procedure;
• Allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to adopt rules governing complication plans to ensure patients undergoing abortions induced by drugs or chemicals have access to safe and reliable care;
• Prevent abortion clinic staff from requesting emergency responders to alter their normal response procedure by turning off lights or sirens;
• Require an abortion facility to provide affirmative evidence that each person authorized to perform abortions is a physician currently licensed to practice in Missouri;
• Allow the state health department to adopt separate rules to apply to ambulatory surgical centers and to apply to abortion facilities;
• Permit the health department to make an unannounced on-site inspection of any abortion facility at least annually;
• Strengthen penalties for abortion clinics and hospitals that do not comply with the requirements for submitting fetal tissue after an abortion; and
• Require that all tissue removed at the time of abortion be sent to a pathologist within five days for examination.
The stronger safety regulations are meant to address a court ruling that struck down Missouri’s previous law that required abortion providers to abide by the same regulations imposed on ambulatory surgical centers. The court also did away with a law that required a doctor providing an abortion to have privileges at a nearby hospital. Supporters say the regulations are necessary to ensure the safety and health of women using the facilities. They note that the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis has had to call an ambulance 58 times in the last seven years with 23 of the calls made to respond to hemorrhages as a complication of abortion. They also point out that the St. Louis facility was cited by the Department of Health and Senior Services more than 100 times from 2009 to 2016 for failure to provide a safe and sanitary environment.
The provision in the bill that addresses the St. Louis city ordinance will protect the rights of pregnancy resource centers. The St. Louis ordinance was put in place by the city to prevent employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had an abortion, use birth control, or are pregnant. The governor has said the ordinance makes it so organizations like pregnancy care centers can’t work the way they’re supposed to. As the governor said, local politicians have tried to make it illegal for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians. The bill passed by legislature acknowledges and protects the right of an “alternatives to abortion” agency to operate freely and engage in speech without governmental interference, and the right of a person not to be compelled by the government to participate in abortion contrary to his or her religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Following the passage of the bill, the governor issued a statement saying, “Today is a great victory for pregnancy care centers that help women and children all over the state. I’m proud that many of Missouri’s lawmakers stood strong to protect the lives of the innocent unborn and women’s health.” On Wednesday afternoon, I joined Governor Greitens and other legislators in the Governor’s office at the State Capitol for the official bill signing of HCS HB 5. I supported this legislation.