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Battle among anti-abortion groups may doom anti-abortion bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2009 - A dispute between various anti-abortion groups may have doomed the chances of this session's chief anti-abortion bill -- a combined version of HB46 and HB434. Former St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth, now head of the Missouri Family Policy Council, supports a Senate version that is strongly opposed by Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference, among others.

Ortwerth contended late Thursday, “Certain pro-life interests made it clear that if they didn’t get everything in the bill they wanted, they would kill the bill. And they did.”

Missouri Right to Life and anti-abortion lobbyist Sam Lee agree that they are out to block the Senate combined version of HB46 and HB434, a bill that they view as weaker than Missouri’s current abortion restrictions. The Missouri Catholic Conference is also upset with the Senate version.

Such groups were strong supporters of the House version which, among other things, creates the new crime of coerced abortion. The Senate alternative stripped out the coerced-abortion language, in the wake of concerns that it could criminalize actions by parents or grandparents in dealing with cases of very young girls who had gotten pregnant.

The anti-abortion groups' opposition to the Senate version apparently contributed to the Missouri House’s decision Thursday afternoon to demand that the Senate agree to the House version, or go to conference.

The Senate declared late Thursday that it would not accept the House version, and called on the House to side with the Senate's alternative.

With Friday’s 6 p.m. deadline looming for this legislative session, both sides acknowledge that the impasse could well doom the bill.

That’s fine for Missouri Right to Life. “We believe that if this (Senate version) passes, we’re losing too much here," said executive director Patty Skain.

Ortwerth disagrees. “That’s preposterous,’’ he said Thursday. “The provisions in the Senate version were 10 times stronger than current law.’’

Skain and Lee disagree. They point to language in the Senate version that they say would weaken the state’s current requirements on small abortion operations, notably Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Columbia, Mo., where abortions are performed only one day a week.

The Senate bill’s new requirements wouldn’t be imposed on one-day-a-week clinics until 2012.

Those requirements were to include a mandate that the pregnant woman receive from the attending physician “new printed materials and videos, to be developed by the Department of Health and Senior Services by November 30, 2009, detailing the risks of an abortion and the physiological characteristics of an unborn child at two-week gestational increments,’’ the official Senate summary says.

"The woman must also be provided with the gestational age of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed and must be given an opportunity to view, at least 24 hours prior to an abortion, an active ultrasound of the unborn child and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child, if the heartbeat is audible. Prior to an abortion being performed past twenty-two weeks gestational age, the woman must be provided information regarding the possibility of the abortion causing pain to the unborn child…”

The woman was to write on a check list that she had received all the required information.

The fight between the anti-abortion groups ironically appears to put most of them – with the exception of Orthwerth – on the same side as Missouri’s Planned Parenthood operations, which opposes any version of HB46/ HB434.

Paula Gianino, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, says that the measures – along with the state’s current 24-hour period – do nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  Rather, they simply make it more difficult for women with limited resources to get early abortions, she said.

Planned Parenthood’s clinic in St. Louis has seen an increase in second-trimester abortions, Gianino said. About 20 percent of the women getting abortions at the St. Louis clinic travel more than 100 miles, because of the lack of access to reproductive services nearer their homes, she said.

Regardless of the final version of HB46/ HB434, Gianino said, “We will do everything we can to stop this bill.’’

As of Thursday night, Planned Parenthood may not have to do much.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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