US-NEWS-MO-ABORTION-KC

Anti-abortion protesters stand in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on May 30, 2019.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One of Missouri’s leading anti-abortion legislators plans to offer a bill similar to the Texas law the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to go into effect last week, which empowers citizens to enforce the state’s near-total abortion ban by suing providers and others who assist women in getting the procedure.

Republican state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who chairs the House Children and Families Committee, has promised to introduce a version of the legislation. The commitment, coming from an influential lawmaker, signals that Republicans see a possible new route to effectively ending legal abortion in Missouri.

“We are absolutely going to do everything we have in power to try to eliminate abortion in Missouri,” Coleman said. “And not just eliminate it, but make it unthinkable.”

Missouri law already includes a ban on abortion after eight weeks, but the state cannot enforce it while a legal challenge to the restriction makes it way through federal court. Judges are set to review an injunction against the law later this month. The ban, if it ever goes into effect, would be among the toughest abortion limits in the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a major abortion rights ruling next spring that could significantly weaken or even overturn the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal nationwide. That outcome would give state lawmakers in Missouri and elsewhere a freer hand to restrict or potentially outright ban the procedure in the years to come.

But the Texas law may provide Missouri abortion rights opponents a quicker path. The Texas measure prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy but blocks government agents from enforcing it. Instead, Texas residents are authorized to sue abortion providers who break the law and others who aid women seeking abortions.

The law was designed to thwart court challenges by making it difficult to sue the government to block it. The decision paid off: The Supreme Court voted 5-4 last week to allow the Texas law to go into effect.

If Missouri Republican lawmakers unite around the idea, the General Assembly could pass and Gov. Mike Parson could sign similar legislation in the first part of 2022 — months before the Supreme Court hands down its anticipated abortion decision.

“Conversations are ongoing amongst the legislators,” Coleman said. Her plan to introduce a bill was first reported by St. Louis Public Radio.

House Speaker Rob Vescovo and other top Republican leaders didn’t respond to a request for comment. Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, a Sullivan Republican, didn’t return a voicemail left for him Tuesday.

Vescovo, who, like Coleman, is also from the city of Arnold, has a “long history of being pro-life,” and she said she couldn’t imagine him not supporting it. She added, however, that she had not spoken with Vescovo.

State Rep. Hannah Kelly, the assistant majority leader, said the House GOP caucus is dedicated to “protecting and preserving life” but offered few details about what legislation would move forward. The Mountain Grove Republican said lawmakers must first focus on the veto session, which begins next week.

State Rep. Keri Ingle, the top Democrat on the House Children and Families Committee, didn’t return a voicemail Tuesday. But Democrats have already made clear they will fight any attack on abortion rights.

“A full 70% of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, but now it’s under attack,” the Missouri House Democratic Caucus said on Twitter, referring to a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center. “We have a responsibility to protect it and a woman’s right to choose.”

In addition to limiting abortion access for Missouri residents, a Missouri law modeled after Texas would likely have the effect of making abortion access more difficult for Texas women who may now be traveling to other states for the procedure. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Missouri’s sole abortion provider is preparing to offer services to patients from Texas.

“When politicians in other states have failed people in need of abortion, we have answered the call. RHS will do it again because abortion is health care and health care is a human right,” Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in a statement.

“However, despite our best efforts, the injustice here is that for far too many patients, traveling out of state will push access out of reach altogether,” Rodríguez said. “This is the reality we’ve long been warning about.”

 

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