A Pro-Life activist; Pro-gun demonstrators (Getty/Alex Wong/AP/Jose Luis Magana)

Missouri Senate passes bill that would ban abortions at eight weeks, even in cases of rape or incest

The vote on the sweeping anti-abortion bill came one day after Alabama signed into law a near-total ban on abortion


Shira Tarlo
May 16, 2019 5:30PM (UTC)

Missouri's Republican-controlled Senate voted early Thursday to ban abortions eight weeks into pregnancy, even in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking. The bill says a non-complying doctor could be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison for performing an abortion in most circumstances.

The bill, known as the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, declares that "God is the author of life" and that the "state and all of its political subdivisions are a 'sanctuary of life' that protects pregnant women and their unborn children."

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The measure, passed 24-10, came one day after Alabama's governor signed into law a ban on abortions at any time absent a medical emergency. It places Missouri in line with states including Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi that have passed so-called "heartbeat" bills outlawing abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks and before many women know they are pregnant. Utah and Arkansas also voted to ban the procedure after the second trimester.

The bills, along with similar proposals currently under consideration in more than a dozen other states, are the latest effort by conservatives to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision from  1973, which said a woman has a constitutional right to end a pregnancy until the fetus is developed enough to live outside the uterus.

Republican State Sens. Dave Schatz and Caleb Rowden said in a joint statement that Missouri had passed "one of the strongest pro-life bills in the country."

"This comprehensive, life-affirming legislation prohibits abortions once a heartbeat has been detected, prohibits abortions when a baby is capable of feeling pain and would outlaw abortion in Missouri upon the reversal of Roe v. Wade," the senators said.

State Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat, called the bill "unconstitutional."

"Democrats succeeded in removing many provisions, but the final product unduly burdens the constitutional rights of Missouri women," he said on Twitter.

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The bill is now headed back to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it passed in February and is likely to be approved again. It will then travel to the desk of Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to be signed into law.

"My administration will execute the laws the legislature passes and this pro-life administration will not back down," Parson told reporters Wednesday evening.

The legislation has moved through Missouri at a time when opponents of legal access to abortion nationwide have been emboldened by the transformation of the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which secured a conservative majority on the nation's highest court for decades to come.

Supporters of such restrictions say fetuses are humans and deserve human rights. Many supporters are Christians and believe the Bible forbids most abortions.

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Opponents of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, have vowed to sue to block the measure if it becomes law. They intend to argue that a state cannot restrict access to abortion before viability — the point at which a fetus can survive outside the uterus — which is a right that federal courts have repeatedly reaffirmed in decisions since Roe. Any restriction on abortion must contain exceptions to protect the life and health of the woman and cannot create an "undue burden" on a woman seeking an abortion — a standard that was established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey" in 1992 and clarified in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016.

Prior to Thursday's vote, Missouri already had highly restrictive abortion laws. Women seeking abortions have just one clinic — Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — which provides the procedure. The organization immediately condemned the Senate vote.

"Politicians are putting the health and lives of Missouri women at risk in their race to make our state the one that overturns Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court," M'Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said in a statement. "These bans on safe, legal abortion will have real costs — expensive legal costs and human costs for the women and families who need reproductive health care."

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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