Work underway in House in special session on abortion issues

The state House has started work on the second extraordinary session of 2017; this one called by Governor Eric Greitens (R) for the legislature to deal with issues related to abortion.

Representative Hannah Kelly (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans say the special session is an important chance for the state to reaffirm a commitment to protecting unborn children and making sure women receive proper care from abortion providers.  Democrats say it is about attacking women’s healthcare in the face of recent court decisions.

Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau), who has a nursing background, is sponsoring House Bill 3, which would change the laws regarding the conditions and care at abortion providers.  She said it is based in part on violations of medical procedures and protocols that have occurred at those facilities.

“Such as expired drugs, or single-use drugs that were still there – single use drugs obviously are to be utilized on a single patient and then discarded – dusty equipment, rusty equipment, that sort of thing,” said Swan.  “That’s what I have been saying for the last four to five years is that those standards need to be maintained regardless of the procedure, regardless of the facility.”

Swan’s bill would require facilities that provide abortions to prove that doctors performing abortions are physicians licensed in Missouri; to be subject to rules at least equal to those for ambulatory surgical centers; and be subject to unannounced on-site inspections at least once a year.  HB3 would also create the misdemeanor crime of “interference with medical assistance,” for preventing or seeking changes in medical care to a patient.

Democrats including Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) note the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law regarding regulations of abortion providers in that state, and a court has placed an injunction against a similar law in Missouri.  She argues that the additional regulations Swan and others propose will also prove unconstitutional.

“This is up to a court to decide, but that’s again another waste of time and money that we’re wanting to pass more things that are really going to fit under that same purview,” said Newman.

Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) has filed House Bill 9 that she said aims to protect pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes from undue discrimination and ensure protection of women’s healthcare.  She is also concerned additional abortion clinics could open in St. Louis thanks in part to a law passed by St. Louis earlier this year.

“If we don’t put a stop to it, it will be in two words an ‘abortion sanctuary,’ that we will be responsible for and the blood will be on our hands because we didn’t do anything to protect the lives that have the promise in the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Kelly.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats defend the St. Louis statute as preventing discrimination in housing and employment against women who are having or have had abortions, are pregnant, or use birth control.  Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade said her constituents view that less as an issue of being for or against abortion, and more about local governments being able to govern.

“If my city council members and our mayor, or by a vote of the people, determine that something for our city is best, the fact that the legislature comes in and will look at a specific city and a specific thing that their people have decided is best for them and say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ is worrisome,” said Quade.  “I think that we have a real concern – I know I do – with just the separate branches of government and if we’re actually following what we should be, and I think that goes to the governor’s call as well – how he was so very specific to what statutes he wanted us to look into.  I personally feel like he was legislating through that call.”

The House has held a committee hearing Wednesday on some of its legislation dealing with these and other abortion-related issues, but has not met as a full body.  Several House members say it will seek first to take up any legislation the Senate is successful in passing and debate whether pass that.

The House is anticipated to take up the Senate’s legislation next week.

House bill targets St. Louis ordinance, aims to protect alternatives-to-abortion clinics

The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill that proponents say would protect alternatives to abortion agencies and their employees’ rights to assembly, religious practices, and speech.

It targets a St. Louis ordinance that the bill’s opponents say protects from discrimination women who have had abortions, use contraceptives or artificial insemination, or have become pregnant out of wedlock.

The sponsor of House Bill 174, Representative Tila Hubrecht (R-Dexter), said that ordinance penalizes agencies that refuse to hire a woman who would counsel a woman to have an abortion or refer a woman to get an abortion.

“This ordinance could also force private property owners to rent space to abortion facilities or to doctors who perform abortions, and force private employers to include abortion coverage in employee health plans,” said Hubrecht.

Hubrecht said without her bill becoming law, the St. Louis ordinance and its like could, “interfere with the mission of alternatives-to-abortion agencies and persons not affiliated with a religious organization, and obstruct their conscience rights.” 

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman said by nullifying the ordinance, the legislature would be allowing discrimination.

“Are you in favor of firing a woman just because she’s pregnant?  That’s what the ordinance prevents.  Are you in favor of terminating a lease just because a woman is pregnant?  Again, that’s what the ordinance prevents.  St. Louis Ordinance 70459 prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy including childbirth, and as you would suspect, these are private decisions that are none of the employee’s or a landlord’s business,” said Newman.

Newman said the bill would also protect those agencies’ dissemination of “medically inaccurate” information to women, aimed at discouraging them from having an abortion or using contraception.

“You’re saying as a government body you have the right, then, to go and interfere in other people’s personal, private health decisions and even allow them to be getting inaccurate medical care,” said Newman.

Another vote in favor of HB 174 would send it to the state Senate.

House passes bills meant to halt ‘venue shopping’

The Missouri House has passed a trio of bills meant to put an end to “venue shopping” in lawsuits, particularly in the St. Louis area.

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Proponents said House Bills 460, 461, and 462 would stop the practice of attorneys to seek to have cases involving people not from Missouri, alleging injuries that didn’t happen in Missouri, and against companies not from Missouri, heard in St. Louis based on the belief they’d have a better chance of winning there.

“St. Louis has become the nation’s courtroom,” said the bills’ sponsor, Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa).

Kolkmeyer said there are more than 8,400 plaintiffs from outside of Missouri involved in 140 cases pending in St. Louis.

“That’s overcrowding our dockets, we have judges coming from all over the state to fill in the St. Louis Courts, and it’s time that we pull back a little bit,” said Kolkmeyer.

He said the bills aim to make sure more such cases are heard in venues more appropriate to their circumstances.

Each of the bills passed with 97 or more votes, but they faced bipartisan opposition.  Parkville Republican Nick Marshall said it would hurt Missourians’ ability come together across county lines in cases against large companies.

“We have swept up into this bill someone that we didn’t meant to sweep up into this bill, and that’s the small plaintiffs throughout rural Missouri that have a common, large-pocketed defendant – either corporation or deep-pocketed insurance company,” said Marshall.  “We have these little Davids out there that cannot fight Goliath by themselves.”

The bills are the latest in a series of courtroom reforms passed out of the House this session, including new standards for who would be considered an expert witness in a trial.

Those bills have been sent to the state Senate.