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Steelman to travel with Tea Party Express, while Akin promotes opposition to abortion

Thi article first apeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 30, 2012 - Two of Missouri’s Republicans for the U.S. Senate – former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood – are seeking this week to promote their conservative views and reach out to like-minded voters.

Akin held a news conference Tuesday morning in the Robert A. Young federal building downtown to highlight his opposition to abortion – and his longstanding support from anti-abortion groups.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Steelman will accompany members of the Tea Party Expressduring a bus tour around the state.

Akin announced that he will introduce a bill dubbed the SAFE ACT (Stop Abortion Funding in Multi-state Exchange Plans Act), that his announcement says “ensures that coverage offered under ‘multi-state’ health plans administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in state exchanges is consistent with the current federal abortion funding ban.

In effect, the proposed national ban would mirror a restriction in Missouri that’s been on the books since 2010 (although the state General Assemby is still resisting the idea of setting up insurance exchanges at all).

Abortion opponents have maintained that the insurance exchanges – which are part of the federal health coverage law advanced by President Barack Obama as a way to lower rates – don’t contain enough to protections to make sure that no federal money is used to pay for abortion coverage.

Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life, said that her group wants to bar any insurance companies in the exchanges from offering coverage for abortions in their policies even though participants would use their own money to buy the coverage.

Because the coverage is expected to be cheaper, Fichter says the upshot is that federal dollars would be subsidizing the lower rates. Fichter said that abortion opponents around the country want to expand the restriction to all 50 states, beyond those like Missouri that already have it.

During the news conference, Akin said his bill would still allow individual states to offer insurance with abortion coverage through their exchange. The bill would apply only to the multi-state exchanges, he said.

"This is an eminently common-sense proposal," the congressman said.

Akin acknowledged that he opposes the general idea of exchanges because he dislikes "everything about Obamacare." As a result, he sympathizes with fellow Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly who have opposed setting one up, as mandated by the federal law as of 2014.

Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, joined Akin at the news conference and emphasized her support for his bill, which she said advanced states' rights. Yoest praised Missouri's current ban on abortion coverage in any exchange and said at least 15 other states have followed suit.

Akin said he didn't expect his bill to become an issue in his bid for the U.S. Senate, because the two other major Republicans -- former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and St. Louis businessman John Brunner -- also oppose abortion and the federal health insurance law.

Fichter emphasized that support for Akin’s bill doesn’t mean that Right to Life – which has backed his congressional elections in the past – is endorsing him for the U.S. Senate. No decision has been made, she said, noting that endorsements won’t be announced until early June.

Steelman, meanwhile, already has the support of the Tea Party Express, a California-based group among many in the conservative tea party movement.

The express’ bus tour includes a 6 p.m. stop Wednesday in Fenton at the Victory Field House. Steelman is to join them.

The express has been emphasizing Steelman's conservative views on fiscal matters, although she also opposes abortion.

At least 18 Missouri-based tea party groups have objected to the endorsement, with some hinting that they may side with Akin instead.

Start of update: Tuesday night, 17 of those groups issued a joint statement that said, "Once again, the endorsement of Sarah Steelman for U.S. Senate by the Tea Party Express does not represent the consensus of Tea Party groups and conservative grassroots organizations existing in Missouri; neither does the Tea Party Express represent the positions of Tea Party groups as a whole. The Tea Party Express is a California-based, consultant-heavy organization with no connection to Missouri and entirely absent from grassroots campaigns in Missouri thus far. They do not speak for Missouri Tea Party organizations when stating they have identified a "true Tea Party candidate in Missouri." End of update

As for abortion, Steelman also has emphasized her opposition – as has another rival, St. Louis businessman John Brunner.

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.