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Missouri House approves key measure sought by abortion opponents; now goes to governor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2010 - The Missouri House kicked off the last day of this session by approving the bill that was the top objective of abortion opponents.The measure,SB 793, requires that a woman planning to have an abortion first be given "the opportunity to view at least 24 hours prior to the abortion an action ultrasound of the unborn child and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child if the heartbeat is audible."

The bill also requires that the physician performing the abortion, or a qualified professional, must provide to the woman, in person, specified printed materials that "describe the various surgical and drug-induced methods of abortion relevant to the state of pregnancy, as well as the immediate and long-term medical risks commonly associated with each abortion method."

The inclusion of "qualified professional'' had been sought by abortion-rights advocates, and their Senate allies -- notably state Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City -- who had threatened a filibuster if the language was not included. The original version of the bill had stipulated that only the doctor could provide the information.

In the House, chief sponsor Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, told colleagues Friday that the legislation was likely to prompt more women to continue their pregnancies. Among the few comments by opponents, Rep. Beth Low, D-Kansas City, said the measure was yet another example of legislators trying to appease anti-abortion groups. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights and a supporter of abortion rights, said she and other allies were prevented from speaking.

The House vote was overwhelming: 114 in favor, with 39 opposed.

Missouri Right to Life issued a celebratory statement within minutes of the bill's passage. "This legislation will save lives and allow a woman to be more fully informed before making a life or death decision for her child."

"In addition, this bill bans taxpayer-funding of elective abortion coverage in federal health insurance exchanges," the group said. "This language is critical in protecting lives and the rights of pro-life Missouri taxpayers."

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, which operates the only abortion clinic left in the state, issued a statement of its own: "The bill intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and adds many new burdensome and unnecessary requirements to the current 24 hour mandatory delay and informed consent process for abortion."

Among other things, the agency asserted that "women will now be subjected to state-mandated ideological messages that physicians are required to recite, but are not based on medical science" and "all private health insurance companies in Missouri will be prohibited from including abortion coverage in their plans even when paid for with private funds."

Bray, who supports abortion rights,  said the bill's "saving grace" is that the doctor or professional can say whatever they want after telling the patient the required information. "Nothing here prevents them from saying the truth," she said.

Bray added that she was disappointed that the medical community didn't speak against the bill.

Roseann Moring provided some information in this report. 

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.