JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led House on Friday passed sweeping legislation designed to survive court challenges, which would ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.
If enacted, the ban would be among the most restrictive in the U.S. It includes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Doctors would face five to 15 years in prison for violating the eight-week cutoff. Women who receive abortions wouldn’t be prosecuted.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson pledged to sign the bill , but it’s unclear when he’ll take action. When pressed on the lack of exceptions, he told reporters that “all life has value.”
The Missouri legislation comes after Alabama’s governor signed a bill Wednesday making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.
Supporters say the Alabama bill is meant to conflict with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally in hopes of sparking a court case that might prompt the current panel of more conservative justices to revisit abortion rights.
Missouri Republicans are taking a different approach.
GOP Rep. Nick Schroer said his legislation is “made to withstand judicial challenges and not cause them.”
He cited extensive “legislative findings” included in the bill about fetal development that are aimed at backing up the state’s interest in limiting abortion if the measure is challenged, as well as new judges appointed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Donald Trump.
Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr said the measure was drafted with a legal team and based on previous court rulings across the U.S.
“We spent hours upon hours researching what courts have said in their decisions and what they believe to be important,” Haahr said.
If courts don’t allow Missouri’s proposed eight-week ban to take effect, the bill includes a ladder of less-restrictive time limits that would prohibit abortions at 14, 18 or 20 weeks or pregnancy.
“While others are zeroing in on ways to overturn Roe v. Wade and navigate the courts as quickly as possible, that is not our goal,” Schroer said.
Kentucky , Mississippi , Ohio and Georgia also have approved bans on abortion once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Some of those laws already have been challenged in court , and similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa previously were struck down by judges.
Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp said she believes the eight-week ban goes against Roe v. Wade, under which justices noted that viability typically was 24 to 28 weeks. But she said parts of the wide-ranging bill likely will survive.
“I do believe that there are probably some provisions that will pass court challenges,” Schupp said.
Missouri’s bill also includes an outright ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergencies. But unlike Alabama’s, it would kick in only if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Clinicians reacted with disgust to the passage of the bill.
“Ob-gyns and other women’s health care providers should not be threatened with criminal penalties for delivering evidence based, necessary health care,” the Missouri Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in an emailed statement.
The Hope Clinic for Women, which performs abortions in Granite City, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis, noted it already sees Missouri patients on a daily basis.
“Our doors remain open for any patient who needs abortion care,” Executive Director Dr. Erin King said in a statement.
Abortion-rights supporters in the House chanted, “when you lie, people die” and “women’s rights are human rights” during debate on the measure before being escorted from the chamber. Outside, they shouted “shame, shame, shame” after lawmakers voted 110-44 to pass it.
Several women dressed as characters from the “The Handmaid’s Tale” watched silently. The Margaret Atwood book and subsequent Hulu TV series depicts a dystopian future where fertile women are forced to breed.
“Since you’re fine with forcing children who have been raped to have their rapist’s babies, I truly hope when y’all go to sleep tonight that you think about that,” Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade told Republicans on the House floor.
A handful of abortion opponents protested outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on Friday. Among them was 21-year-old Teresa Pettis, a Catholic who is five months’ pregnant with her first child.
She said she supports the bill even though it outlaws abortions for women who have been raped.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s right to punish the child for something the child can’t control,” Pettis said. “The baby might be born in unfortunate circumstances, but it’s still a human life.”
Rep. Shamed Dogan was the only Republican to vote against the bill. He cited the lack of exceptions for pregnancies borne of rape and incest, and said most residents of his suburban St. Louis district “think that’s going too far.”
One Democrat voted in favor.
A total of 3,903 abortions occurred in Missouri in 2017, the last full year for which the state Department of Health and Senior Services has statistics online. Of those, 1,673 occurred at under nine weeks and 119 occurred at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy.
About 2,900 abortions occurred in 2018, according to the agency.
The bill also bans abortions based solely on race, sex or a diagnosis indicating the potential for Down Syndrome.
If Parson signs, most provisions of the bill would take effect Aug. 28.
Associated Press writers David A. Lieb and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.
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