JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed a sweeping piece of anti-abortion legislation that critics and others argue will subject women to felony charges if they perform their own abortions.
Parson’s signature comes less than 24 hours after GOP mega donor David Humphreys urged the governor to veto the measure, which bans most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. Critics say the legislation — which includes no rape or incest exemptions — is too extreme.
The eight-week ban will take effect in late August.
“By signing this bill today, we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women’s health, and advocate for the unborn,” Parson said in a statement. “All life has value and is worth protecting.”
Democrats and abortion-rights groups blasted the decision.
“Missouri law now requires people to remain pregnant against their will, treating them as little more than fetal incubators with no rights or role in the decision, even in cases of rape and incest,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a statement.
“We cannot long claim to be a free society when the heavy hand of government is used to crush individual liberty and subject us to the mandates of official state doctrine,” she said.
Instead of holding a public ceremony, Parson signed the legislation in private Friday morning, an unusual move for a governor who has emphasized transparency during his tenure. He did not notify the public that he intended to sign the bill this week.
Parson’s secretive predecessor, former Gov. Eric Greitens, also held a private ceremony in 2017 where he signed legislation further regulating abortion in the state.
Parson’s spokesman Steele Shippy said Parson had intended to hold public signing events this week in Springfield and Cape Girardeau, but changed his mind after tornadoes and flooding tore up areas of the state.
Parson’s signature comes as much of the state’s attention has turned toward natural disaster recovery.
Before a tornado swept through Jefferson City Wednesday night, abortion-rights activists had mobilized in an effort to convince Parson, a Republican, to veto the measure.
The 2019 legislation bans abortions in the state of Missouri at eight weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, “in whole or in part,” the legislation states that all abortions would be made illegal except in cases of a medical emergency.
The legislation also bans a woman from aborting a fetus that might have Down syndrome. It also requires both parents or guardians to be notified before minors can get an abortion, in most cases.
A Jefferson City attorney who analyzed the bill for the Post-Dispatch said it is possible that a woman could be charged with a Class B felony for performing or inducing her own abortion. A Class B felony carries a sentence of between five and 15 years in prison.
“My opinion is that there are circumstances in which it is at least possible that a woman could be charged with a felony,” said Lowell Pearson, a Husch Blackwell managing partner who has represented a number of Republican clients, including U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
The bill says: “Any person who knowingly performs or induces an abortion of an unborn child in violation of this subsection shall be guilty of a class B felony, as well as subject to suspension or revocation of his or her professional license by his or her professional licensing board.”
Shippy, Parson’s spokesman, said women inducing or performing their own abortions under the law would not be charged, but he did not elaborate on how the governor’s legal team reached that conclusion.
“We are confident in our legal analysis,” Shippy said.
A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri said the organization’s attorneys were analyzing the legislation and could challenge the new law in court.
“We are examining all of our options to ensure Missourians have access to the healthcare that they need,” said Sarah Felts, of Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood runs the only abortion clinic in the state, in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis.
Humphreys said Thursday he would fund an effort to overturn the legislation at the ballot in 2020 if Parson signed it.
It is unclear whether putting a question on the ballot would have any significant impact on turnout or on Parson’s ability to win a full term.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Dave Robertson said the same women who are mobilized to oust President Donald Trump also would be mobilized to head to the polls to try to overturn the new abortion law.
“It’s a marginal impact,” Robertson said.
The legislation is House Bill 126.
Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.