This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 14, 2011 - As abortion opponents had predicted, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has decided to allow two identical bills restricting abortion to become law without his signature. Under the state constitution, today was the last day for the governor to make a decision on the bills.
Both bills make it a felony to perform an abortion in Missouri past 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless two physicians verify that the fetus isn't viable, or the woman faces death or permanent damage to a major bodily function.
Currently, Missouri law bars most abortions after viability -- generally 24 weeks of gestation -- unless the mother's life or health is endangered.
Nixon generally favors abortion rights but indicated in his written decision that he recognized that a veto of either House Bill 213 or Senate Bill 65 would likely be overridden by the huge margins in both the state House and Senate who favored the bills.
Sources close to the governor also have indicated that he was aware that fewer than 70 abortions a year now are performed in Missouri after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
"This legislation was approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in both houses," Nixon wrote. "Although people have differing views on this issue, it's important that we work together to provide accurate health information, promote personal responsibility, protect women's health, and improve foster care, adoption and child protection services."
This is the second year in a row where Nixon has allowed an abortion-related bill to become law without his signature. The measure approved last year requires abortion providers to offer women the chance to view an ultrasound and listen to the heartbeat of their fetuses. It also requires pregnant women to receive state-approved literature describing various types of abortion procedures and the risks, and to receive that consultation in person.
Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council -- which has been organizing pickets against abortion -- swiftly issued a statement praising the governor's decision.
"Healthy viable preborn children will no longer be vulnerable to the beastly practice of late-term abortion," said Ortwerth, who also is a former St. Charles County executive. "This new law serves notice to doctors who specialize in this barbaric business: Destroy the lives of innocent viable unborn children, and your days in the operating room are over."
Local Planned Parenthood chief executive Paula Gianino criticized the governor's decision -- but took particular aim at the legislature for passing the bills to begin with. She added that it was unfair to target a small number of pregnant women and families facing tough emergency decisions.
"We're disappointed because we believe these bills will put women with crisis pregnancies in greater jeopardy," said Gianino, chief of executive of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. The new law, she said, unfairly aims at "women who have things go wrong that are diagnosed late in pregnancy," such as fatal fetal abnormalities.
State legislators, Gianino asserted, "once again are pandering to anti-choice groups who have shown, once again, they will never stop trying to make all abortions illegal in Missouri, with no exceptions."
The Missouri Republican Party -- which backed the bills -- also jabbed at the governor's decision to allow them to become law without his signature. Said state party spokesman Jonathon Prouty: "Jay Nixon got elected ... but he's certainly not dealing with difficult issues."
With the deadline looming, the governor also signed into law, or allowed to become law, four other bills passed by the General Assembly. The bills include:
-- Criminalizing the substance commonly known as "K2,'' or "bath salts,'' which are being used as synthetic marijuana. The possession penalities are the same as for marijuana.
-- Requiring "any school employee who learns of reported sexual misconduct by a teacher or other school personnel to report that allegation to their superintendent and the Missouri Department of Social Services within 24 hours. School districts must immediately suspend any employee whom the Missouri Department of Social Services returns substantiated findings of allegations of sexual misconduct..."