Richard: 'Previous question' possible in Senate abortion debate

Ron Richard appears to be frustrated.

After the state Senate spent about four hours Wednesday night discussing a bill about abortions - without taking any votes - the Senate's floor leader said Thursday he's thinking about using the "previous question" motion to force a vote.

"I'm for life," he said. "It's important to me."

Richard, R-Joplin, said in their next meeting, he'll ask all the Republican senators if they want to go along with him.

The "previous question" motion - often called a "PQ" - is a parliamentary maneuver intended to stop debate and force a vote on the motion that currently is pending, whether it's to vote on an amendment or take the final vote on a bill.

When the PQ motion is made, the vote is on the motion itself.

If that passes, then there's a vote on the pending issue. If the PQ motion fails, the debate resumes.

The PQ is used routinely in the state House, where Richard served as speaker several years ago, but historically has been used sparingly in the state Senate, which prides itself on having open-ended, "free and fair debate."

It generally has been used to end a minority party's filibuster against a bill the majority wants to get passed - such as Wednesday night's topic, extending the required 24-hour waiting period to get an abortion to 72.

"Seventy-two hours is not a really overzealous task," Richard said. "I think it gives a person a chance to decide if that's exactly the course they want to take, so I'm open to that."

But Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said during Wednesday's debate that the extra 48 hours likely wouldn't change many minds of women who have wrestled with getting an abortion for days or weeks before seeking one.

"If you are already committed enough to come from the northwest or southeast corner of the state, to the only abortion clinic that we have, in St. Louis," Sifton said, "it seems to me that your mind is, probably, already made up."

Other opponents note that under the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Roe v. Wade, abortion is a legal medical procedure in the entire country.

But, pro-choice lawmakers argue, no other medical procedure gets tagged with restrictions like required waiting periods, or laws making a doctor give specific information to the patient before the procedure can be done.

Asked if it made legal sense to treat one medical procedure differently from another - like open heart surgery, which has no mandatory waiting period - Richard said: "If it regards life, I suspect that would be a nice thing, to wait and think about it."

He added: "I'm against Roe v. Wade."

Richard acknowledged that a PQ motion used in the Senate can cause ill feelings and a forced slow-down of other procedures.

For instance, the Senate must begin its day with a reading of the previous day's journal - a reading that generally is waived by unanimous consent.

But if one senator objects to the reading being waived, then the journal must be read in its entirety.

And at least once in the past decade, a party whose filibuster was blocked by a PQ motion forced a longer reading of the journal, slowing down the chamber's ability to handle other bills Senate leadership want to discuss and vote on.

Richard said today's GOP leadership has "gotten along very well" with the Democratic minority.

But the Democrats have only nine members - not enough to block any bill on a final vote, unless some Republicans also vote against it.

Richard doesn't like the Democrats' apparent unwillingness to vote on issues they don't like, including abortion, requiring a photo ID to vote or prohibiting unions from requiring every employee in a business to join a union.

Those ideas also might come up for debate this session and, Richard said, he's not afraid to use the PQ to force a vote on those issues, either.

"We're the majority party, and I want to do what I want to do," he said. "It's worth the battle.

"I'm willing to fight the fight."