Missouri Senate Democrats question abortion bill

Senate Democrats stalled legislation Tuesday that would add to Missouri’s restrictions on late-term abortions by allowing them only when a woman’s life is endangered or the pregnancy poses a serious risk of permanent physical injury.

The Senate set aside the bill after three hours of Democratic opposition, but Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer — who is sponsoring the measure — said he expects the Republican-led chamber ultimately will pass it. A similar bill already has passed the Republican-led House, where it picked up support from some Democrats.

The legislation would narrow Missouri’s existing ban on aborting viable fetuses, which contains an exception for preserving “the life or health of the woman,” by removing the general health exception. Instead, it would allow abortions on viable fetuses only when a woman’s life is endangered or when a continued pregnancy would “create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” of the woman.

Opponents of the legislation said abortions of viable fetuses already are rare in Missouri and often involve women who want to have children but who discover their fetuses are severely deformed.

Justus, who led the opposition, said the legislation’s definition of viability could put doctors at risk of the bill’s penalties of one to seven years in prison and a fine of between $10,000 and $50,000 for aborting a viable fetus when a woman does not qualify for an exception. The bill describes a fetus as viable when there is a reasonable likelihood it can be sustained outside the womb, with or without artificial support. But Justus said it’s unclear whether that life must be expected to last for only minutes, a day or a week.

Mayer set aside the legislation as Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, was pushing an amendment that would leave open the possibility of aborting viable fetuses based on a woman’s mental health.

“Mental health and mental illness is every bit as serious as physical impairments, and I think we are being incredibly shortsighted and we are interfering with medicine,” Justus said.

Mayer said he was concerned that allowing exceptions for mental health “might open the door for an abortion to take place where a woman could suffer from postpartum depression.”

“You’re dealing here with an unborn human being, someone who doesn’t have the ability to communicate,” said Mayer, R-Dexter. “There are some protections that need to be put in place.”

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