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Abortion takes center stage at Capitol

200 abortion rights supporters lobby lawmakers; Senate debates heartbeat bill by Joe Gamm | May 9, 2019 at 2:02 a.m. | Updated May 9, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.
Surrounded by cape-and-hat-wearing women, inspired by "The Handmaid's Tale," Elder Stanley Jackson recites the opening prayer Wednesday as Planned Parenthood was joined by several other organizations for a rally intended to #StopTheBan, which refers to legislation termed the "heartbeat bill." HB126 would ban abortions when the heartbeat of an unborn child can be detected.
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Just hours after more than 200 abortion rights supporters gathered at the Missouri Capitol on Wednesday morning to lobby legislators in opposition to two bills moving through the General Assembly, the Missouri Senate took up its heartbeat abortion bill.

Organizers of Planned Parenthood Advocates' Day of Action at the Missouri Capitol said they wanted supporters to "fight back against the nation's most extreme ban on abortion."

They chanted inside the Rotunda in an effort to stop two bills intended to ban abortions in Missouri, according to event moderator Alexis Martin.

"We all know that abortion is health care," Martin said. "And every single Missourian has the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. That's their business. That's their medical providers' business - and not the business of lawmakers here in Jeff City."

The event was organized to oppose House Bill 126 and Senate Bill 279.

SB 279, sponsored by state Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, was brought up for Senate debate Wednesday afternoon.

It parallels HB 126, sponsored by state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, which has passed through the Missouri House and cleared two Missouri Senate committees.

Senate Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told reporters recently he expects the bill to be debated in the Senate either this week or next - which is the Legislature's final week for this year's session. Rowden would not say if Senate leaders would use the "previous question" procedural move to block an expected filibuster by the bill's opponents, saying only that all options would be available.

Wednesday afternoon's single-position discussion in the Senate appears to support the previous question move.

"Some of the findings that are detailed in this bill were not before the (Roe v. Wade) court," Onder said. "As we learned more - science is bringing us to a place - it brings us more and more to a position where as a just, civil, moral society, feel we ought to protect these innocent lives."

HB 126 would create the "Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act," which would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion after eight weeks of gestation, except in the case of a medical emergency. If the eight-week limit were overturned by a court, it would move the ban to 14 weeks, then 18.

Before an abortion were performed, the physician would be required to determine if there was a detectable heartbeat and record those findings.

The bill contains a "trigger" banning all abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.

In the event of the 1973 court decision being overturned, the state House bill also would create the "Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act," specifying it is the intent of Missouri that abortions will not be permitted in the state "under any circumstances."

"If a total ban is not possible, abortions shall be limited to women who are less than eight weeks gestational age, with a required fetal heartbeat or brain function test," the bill's summary states.

When asked if the costs of a legal challenge are worth the work to pass the bill, Rowden said: "I think, when you talk about issues of life and death, legal costs are pretty much irrelevant."

About a dozen speakers at Wednesday's Planned Parenthood advocacy event warned listeners the bills would infringe upon their rights.

Alicia Hernandez, community organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said the bills could ban abortions early in pregnancy, could endanger minors by forcing them to notify parents or spouses, and provide no exceptions for rape or incest.

"This isn't about protection - this is about one word, and that is control," Hernandez said. "Women have the right to end a pregnancy. That decision is personal and not political."

Leah Boersig, chairwoman for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws - Pro-Choice of Missouri, said politicians have spent years pushing through laws so they could create as many barriers to abortion as they could.

Their goal is to push legal abortion out of reach of women, she continued.

"Since we started this session, the GOP has taken this attack even farther than we've ever seen it before," Boersig said.

The proposed laws would criminalize doctors and shame women, she said. But, she added, the gathered supporters see through lawmakers' lies. Through their legislation, Boersig said, the politicians involved seek to punish women and gut the protections of Roe v. Wade.

Nancy Ames, a listener from Jefferson City, said she supports people having reproductive choices.

"We want choices. We want unwanted pregnancies to be stopped," Ames said. "We'd prefer to not have to make the decision (to have an abortion). It's a painful decision, but it's a woman's choice."

Ames said certain philosophies have prevented women from having access to adequate birth control, leading to the unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion is a "hard, good, moral and faithful choice," the Rev. Molly Housh-Gordon said.

Housh-Gordon, pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, said she spoke to fight for her young daughters' freedom.

Stripping a woman's right to make the choice is an affront to the community and to God, she said.

"I am here because I believe in safe, legal, compassionate abortion. It's not only our constitutional right, but our moral mandate," Housh-Gordon said, "essential to the health, dignity and parity of women and people of all genders. And I am here because I am frankly furious that our Legislature is sitting there trying to draft an unconstitutional, inflexible and immoral abortion ban, rather than doing work that would actually save the lives of countless Missourians."


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