Missouri Legislature passes abortion ban at 8 weeks of pregnancy
Tough, new abortion laws in Alabama and several other states face legal battles in court... and that's the point. We explain how they take aim at Roe v. Wade. Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature has approved a ban on abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, the latest in a rapid-fire series of states enacting the nation's most restrictive anti-abortion measures.
Missouri is the fifth state, after Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia, to pass so-called "heartbeat laws" that ban abortions at a point in a pregnancy when supporters say a heartbeat is regularly detectable. Opponents say the time period is before many women even know they’re pregnant.
The only exception to the new rule, which passed 110-44, would be in the case of medical emergencies — like a mother in danger of dying or irreversible impairment of bodily function — but not in cases of rape or incest.
The law also establishes criminal penalties for abortions sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.
The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is expected to sign it.
"My administration will execute the laws the legislature passes," Parson told reporters and abortion opponents at a campaign-style rally in his office Wednesday evening. "And this pro-life administration will not back down."
Friday's legislative maneuvering played out against a backdrop of emotional protests as opponents disrupted debate and marched through the halls of the state Capitol.
At one point, dozens of abortion-rights supporters were told to leave the House visitors’ galleries after chanting “women’s rights are human rights.”
They then marched through the halls, stopping to chant outside the governor's office before circling around the House chamber.
They chanted “Vote no, now” as the Republican-led House was passing the legislation, then switched to chants of “shame, shame, shame.”
A Missouri state lawmaker was met with hisses when he used the phrase “consensual rape” during the highly charged debate in the chamber.
Republican Rep. Barry Hovis said most sexual assaults he handled before retiring from law enforcement weren’t strangers “jumping out of the bushes” but instead “date rapes or consensual rapes.”
Hovis later told a reporter from the Kansas City Star that he misspoke, and that “there is no such thing as consensual rape.”
Republicans in the GOP-dominated lower chamber, which passed an earlier version of the bill in February, hailed the vote as a triumph for life in the state.
“Missouri is doing an incredible thing,” Rep. Sonya Anderson said. “We are a pro-life state, and we are here to prove it.”
Democrats slammed the bill as an attack on women’s rights driven by party ideology, to the cheers of abortion rights advocates who were eventually removed when their chants overtook debate.
“What this bill does is simply take the rights away from women to make choices about their own health care decisions,” said Rep. Doug Beck. “It’s not about life. I think a lot of it’s about campaigns and political fodder.”
Rep. Sarah Unsicker listed various ways women in countries without abortion rights attempt dangerous alternatives, including methods involving bicycle spokes, ballpoint pens and jumping from high places.
“We will be killing women with this bill,” she said.
Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said her group was "alarmed by callous and extreme politicians who seek to deny women the ability to make decisions about their reproductive health and lives."
The House, voting one day after the state Senate, moved quickly to adopt the measure on the last day of the session in which bills can be considered.
It comes only two days after Alabama's governor signed a bill making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.
The bills by GOP-led legislatures are part of a calculated effort to put the issue before a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning the high court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
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Missouri’s bill also includes an outright ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergencies, although unlike Alabama, that section would kick in only if Roe v. Wade is overturned. If courts don’t allow Missouri’s proposed eight-week ban to take effect, the bill includes a ladder of less-restrictive time limits that would prohibit abortions at 14, 18 or 20 weeks of pregnancy. Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr has said the goal is for the legislation to withstand court challenges.
A total of 3,903 abortions occurred in Missouri in 2017, the last full year for which the state Department of Health and Senior Services has statistics online. Of those, 1,673 occurred at under nine weeks and 119 occurred at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy.
Contributing: The Associated Press