The Missouri House endorsed legislation Monday imposing new limits on late-term abortions and criminal penalties on doctors who don't abide by the new standards.
The legislation would remove a general exception for the woman's health from Missouri's current law banning abortions on viable fetuses. Instead, it would grant exceptions only when the woman's life is endangered by a physical issue or when the pregnancy would pose a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."
"What this bill seeks to do is - once and for all - put a true late-term abortion ban into Missouri statutes," said House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, the bill's sponsor.
The House, which began debate on the bill last week, cut off discussion Monday and gave the legislation first-round approval by voice vote. A second vote is needed to send the measure to the Senate.
Fewer than 5 percent of the more than 10,800 abortions performed statewide in 2009 involved fetuses over 17 weeks of gestational age, according to figures from the Department of Health and Senior Services. Of those 469 that did, 77 were performed after the fetus was older than 21 weeks. The vital statistics did not specify how many of those fetuses were viable.
The House legislation would require concurrence from a second physician before an abortion is performed on a viable fetus.
Doctors who violate any of the bill's standards when aborting viable fetuses could face one to seven years in prison and a fine between $10,000 and $50,000.
Democratic Rep. Jason Holsman, of Kansas City, said he could support many of the provisions in the bill, but "I have a real problem with making a doctor a felon because they make a determination based on a set of criteria that could be ever-evolving" as to whether a fetus is viable.
During last week's debate, Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, and Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, both recounted how their young granddaughters had been diagnosed with developmental disabilities while in the womb.
Newman cited that as a reason to oppose the legislation.
The bill "is attempting to interject the Missouri Legislature into private, personal, medical decisions that are most likely tragic. They belong between a woman, her family, her clergy and the physician only," Newman said.
But Franklin cited her family's experience as a reason to support the legislation.
"Sometimes we have to allow for that miracle to take place. We have to give time the opportunity to heal," Franklin said. "This bill gives those children a chance - it gives them a chance to become part of our society."