After monthlong break, Missouri Senate talks for 2 hours, waits to address abortion-restriction bill | St. Louis Public Radio

After monthlong break, Missouri Senate talks for 2 hours, waits to address abortion-restriction bill

Jul 23, 2017

Updated 7:15 p.m. July 24 with Senate reconvening — The Missouri General Assembly’s special session dealing with new abortion restrictions resumed Monday, though senators declined to take immediate action on Sen. Andrew Koenig’s bill. Several Republican senators were absent, which meant there weren’t enough votes to kill a Democratic filibuster.

When senators return at noon Tuesday, they’ll decide whether to pass a House bill that would institute more restrictions than what the Senate originally went for a few weeks ago.

Republicans say that the bill sponsored by Koenig, a Manchester Republican, will help make abortion clinics safer for women. But Democratic lawmakers argue it’s meant to restrict access to abortion.

Original story from July 22

It’s been a month since Missouri lawmakers discussed abortion restrictions in the second special session of the summer. They return Monday with the hopes of swiftly approving a revised bill and getting back to their day jobs and vacations.  

"Don't be mislead. This is not about women's health. This is about reducing women's access to abortion," said Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican from Manchester, is the chief sponsor of the bill, which the House revised on June 20. He said he’s confident his party has the votes to kill any filibuster by Democrats (Senate GOP has a 24-9 edge in sheer numbers) and approve the measure “as is.” 

But outnumbered Democrats don’t like the House changes, which strengthened regulations for clinics and apparently violated an agreement between the two parties.

“There were commitments made, and as far as my caucus is concerned, it’s a deal-breaker,’’ Senate Democratic leader Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors said.

The bill at issue would do the following if passed:

  • Exempt pregnancy resource centers, which discourage women from having abortions, from a St. Louis provision that bars employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, have had abortions or use birth control.
  • Authorize Missouri’s attorney general to enforce state abortion laws, and overrule local prosecutors.
  • Require annual, unannounced state inspections of abortion clinics.
  • Mandate abortion-clinic physicians meet with patients 72 hours before the procedure is performed (currently, other staff members at a clinic handle the 72-hour notification).
  • Expand rules regarding the examination and disposal of fetal tissue.
  • Bar clinics from asking ambulances to silence their sirens or use a back entrance.

Even though Democrats are at a disadvantage overall in the GOP-majority legislature, and especially in the Senate, Walsh said her party will be less cooperative in the 2018 regular session should Republicans cut off any debate.

In fact, the current special session is happening in part because Democrats blocked legislation — including several anti-abortion bills — in the final weeks of the regular session, which ended May 12.

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens supports the abortion-restrictions bill as it now stands.

“I actually think that the House has done a very good job,” he said, adding that his main aim has been to “protect pregnancy care centers here in the state of Missouri.”

The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. Monday.

Of note

Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe said this week’s proceedings likely will be affected by Friday’s federal appeals court ruling, which requires Missouri to to pay Planned Parenthood’s more than $156,000 in legal fees.  

The decision came in a court fight over abortion restrictions that were affected when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out similar laws in Texas last year. In April, a U.S. district judge said he was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision and blocked two of Missouri’s abortion restrictions.

The Missouri ruling was among the reasons why abortion opponents had pressed Greitens to call the second special session. Friday’s ruling “reinforces their passion that this legislation needs to be something to get done,’’ Kehoe said.

More costly special sessions to come?

Taxpayers have paid close $140,000, so far, for both special sessions; the first came in late May and dealt with proposed aluminum-smelter and steel plants in southeast Missouri.

Greitens, who makes about $133,000 a year, has not ruled out holding another one, though he hasn’t detailed what other topics could be considered.

Follow Jo and Jason on Twitter: @jmannies, @jrosenbaum