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Senate committee hears testimony on, disputes on 'heartbeat' abortion bill

April 4, 2019 at 4:12 a.m. | Updated April 4, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.
Missouri's Capitol in Jefferson City

The Missouri Senate's Health and Pensions Committee spent more than an hour Wednesday morning taking comments on Rep. Nick Schroer's "fetal heartbeat" bill that prohibits most abortions after eight weeks.

"Working with legal scholars, we morphed this heartbeat bill to something which prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat, or brain activity - brain function - is detected within the baby," Schroer, R-O'Fallon, told the committee. "The initial prohibition on abortion would be at the eight-week period."

If the eight-week limit were overturned by a court, he said, "it would move to a 14-week ban. Thereafter, if that's thrown out, it would move to an 18-week ban."

Schroer said the House-passed bill also includes a "pain-capable" ban on abortions at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

And the bill contains a "trigger" banning all abortions in the state, "only if the (U.S.) Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, or to push abortion legislation back to the states," Schroer said.

The bill also would prohibit "selective abortions for sex, race or Downs syndrome," he said.

Abortion practitioners would be required to carry at least $1 million of insurance.

The bill doesn't include an exception for pregnancies from rape or incest.

"We believe firmly that one act of injustice should not justify another," Schroer explained. "We don't want two victims to be made out of one crime."

However, the bill does allow for an abortion "in cases of medical emergency."

The House passed the bill Feb. 27, by a 117-39 vote.

Among the witnesses were two doctors - taking opposite positions.

Dr. Josephine Glaser, a University of Missouri-Columbia Medical School graduate and a board-certified family physician, said elective abortions are "not consistent with ethical health care."

She noted the 1995 version of the Hippocratic Oath includes a promise to "maintain the utmost respect for every human life, from fertilization to natural death, and reject abortion that deliberately takes a unique human life."

However, Dr. Mae Winchester, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in Kansas City, told the committee: "Women - when pushed into the corner that this bill would create - will always find a way to have an abortion (and) unsafe abortions have terrible consequences for the mother."

She said maternal death rates rise when abortions are restricted, and Missouri is the "eighth-worst state in the nation" for maternal mortality.

She also argued the bill's insurance mandate targets only abortion doctors, when there are other doctors who prescribe medicines that can also cause harm to unborn babies during pregnancy.

Stephanie Jacobson, of Kansas City - who had two abortions about 40 years ago - now helps run the "H3Helpline" that aids women "who are struggling from the effects of an abortion they experienced," she said, explaining the first two calls she answered "were from women over the age of 80 that held this secret for way too long."

She said "the pain of abortion takes on many forms," including anger, depression, anxiety, nightmares, alcohol- and drug-addiction, trust issues, marriage problems and problems with disciplining other children.

"Having a life sucked from your body leaves every woman angry," she said, adding abortions are not safe.

Two other women testified they had abortions earlier in their lives, but support the proposed law's restrictions.

Kendall Martinez-Wright, of Jefferson City, testified a relative was raped and became pregnant at age 10 - and had an abortion.

"Who should be forced to" carry a baby that way? she asked.

Without that abortion, she said, the "consequences could have been much (more) dire."

Jodi Cuccurese, 40, used a monitor to amplify her baby's heartbeat for the committee to hear - adding she planned to deliver the baby, her first, today.

Jennifer Box testified she was 12 weeks pregnant when she learned her baby was at high-risk for trisomy 18, a genetic disorder that often is fatal even before a baby is born, or leads to severe developmental delays in children who are born.

"I wanted to share with you how bizarre it is to have the grief of your child tied up in a political issue," she said. "My abortion at 15 weeks should not have caused her pain (medical evidence says it did not) (and) was to spare her a life of suffering."

She said the abortion "was a sacred and painful personal decision. I am simply begging this committee to allow families to make that choice for themselves."

Samantha Mayberry, of Republic, told the committee she got pregnant twice when she was raped by an abusive spouse, and aborted one of those.

"If I could take that abortion back, I would, in a heartbeat," she said. "Life begins at conception - there's absolutely no question about that."

Women who get pregnant from rape "have so many (other) options" instead of abortion, she said.

Anna Martin, a UMC Law School graduate, warned lawmakers the bill appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court's "undue burden" standard defined in a 1991 ruling.

Some committee members countered the Supreme Court has made mistakes in the past, and could change its history of pro-abortion rulings.

Martin also argued more women die from childbirth than from an abortion.

Sara Baker of the ACLU-Missouri said the bill "would ban abortion before most women know they are pregnant," while the courts "have said repeatedly that a woman has the right to choose."

Susan Klein, director of Missouri Right for Life, urged senators to pass "this new kind of bill" that is "the strongest bill in the United States."

She added: "We're talking about the humanity of a baby, and whether we're going to protect that baby or not."

She argued abortions in the United States have claimed 61 million babies.

"At what point are we going to realize that they have heartbeats?" she asked.

Out-of-state abortions

The committee also heard Sen. Jeanie Riddle's bill to "require in-state abortion facilities and family planning agencies to provide printed materials to a woman considering an abortion at an out-of-state facility," she explained.

The language in Riddle's bill also is part of Schroer's House-passed bill.

"Current law requires that in-state abortion providers supply women seeking an abortion with printed materials that are described in" existing state law, Riddle, R-Mokane, reminded committee members. "This bill would require the same thing to happen when women are referred to an out-of-state provider by Missouri abortion facilities or family planning agencies.

"The material described (in the law) covers facts about the unborn child, alternatives to abortion, legal duties and support obligations of the father and the woman's right to withhold consent to the abortion, if she feels coerced."

Opponents have argued the materials provide some good information but are not always medically accurate.

Riddle also told the committee, "for over a decade, Planned Parenthood did not file a single complication report because they encouraged women to go to the ER or to another doctor rather than coming back to Planned Parenthood. Therefore, if you don't have women who have complications come back to your facility, you have no report to file on complications."

M'Evie Mead, of Planned Parenthood Advocates, countered: "The state did not develop a 'complications form' for the period you're talking about, (but) complications were reported to the department (of Health and Senior Services).

"The department has never issued the form (that was mandated) - the health centers continued to report to the department via email."


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