JEFFERSON CITY — Shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday, the Missouri Senate pushed through a tough anti-abortion bill. Republicans declared victory for the unborn.
Several hours later, staff at the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End — the only abortion clinic in Missouri — began getting calls. National media had begun to notice.
“I’ve been shuffling media around all morning,” said Jesse Lawder, spokesman for Planned Parenthood. “National, international, local — and they’re just showing up. Like I got a call from CBS Evening News this morning. They’re like, we’re at the airport.”
All eyes will be on the Missouri House Friday, where state representatives likely will approve the measure. They face a deadline of 6 p.m., when the legislative session ends.
The House passed a version of the bill earlier this year, but because the Senate made changes, the House needs to vote again before sending the measure to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.
One of the most striking changes overnight was offered by Republicans. Under the House legislation, abortions would have been banned if a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
But GOP senators removed the fetal heartbeat language, replacing it with a strict eight-week ban on abortions. That language, they reasoned, may better withstand court challenges.
Missouri is joining an effort with other states to tighten restrictions on abortion and give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to rescind abortion rights.
The measure approved by the Missouri Senate would be one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation: It allows abortions in medical emergencies, but makes no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking.
Lawder, of Planned Parenthood, predicted that if the vast majority of abortions are outlawed in Missouri, patients would head to Illinois where abortion is more accessible.
“The mood here is — is, I mean, people here are really concerned about what this means for patients,” he said.
Democrats spent most of the day Wednesday filibustering the measure in the Missouri Capitol.
And Republicans worked all night to get it passed.
By 4 p.m., the Senate recessed and Democrats and GOP Senate leadership met for behind-the-scenes negotiations.
At 5:30 p.m., the governor, a Republican, held a campaign-style rally in his office. He invited a crowd of abortion foes. And GOP House members helped fill the room.
Parson demanded the Democrats relent, allowing the legislation to come to a vote. Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, urged GOP leadership to stop negotiating with the Democrats.
Onder is one of the leaders of the so-called Senate Conservative Caucus, a six-member cohort that has acted as a thorn in the side of Parson and President Pro Tem Dave Schatz all legislative session.
“Stop by leadership’s office,” Onder told the crowd. “Tell them: Get this bill to a vote. Don’t dilute it. Don’t gut it. Every piece in this bill is important.”
About 5:50 p.m., when asked whether the two sides had a deal, Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said, “No, we do not”
At 7:55 p.m., Onder sent out an “EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT” to supporters.
“We can’t let them weaken, dilute or ALTOGETHER GUT the bill, CAN WE?” the email said. He urged supporters to contact Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and Schatz “and ask them to bring this bill to the floor NOW, not WEAKENED, NOT DILUTED, NOT ALTOGETHER GUTTED!”
At 9:30 p.m., the conservatives held a news conference expressing the same sentiment. Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats continued.
Sometime overnight, Schatz, R-Sullivan, emerged from his office and spotted Bev Ehlen, an anti-abortion activist who had posted online the cellphone numbers of Schatz and Rowden that evening.
“Never come to my office,” Schatz angrily told Ehlen as he breezed by, according to the account of a Kansas City Star reporter.
“Take it like a man,” Ehlen called out to Schatz.
Schatz, according to the report, turned around and got in her face: “That is so amateur for you to put my cell number out there.”
Talks continued. Shortly before 12:30 a.m., Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, was filmed doing push-ups against a brass water fountain on the third floor of the Capitol. She was waiting.
Shortly before 4 a.m., the Senate reconvened, and Republicans pushed the bill through. Democrats won small concessions, they said.
After negotiations, Democrats allowed a vote on the bill, and they all voted “no.”
To keep filibustering would likely have meant forcing Republicans to resort to a “nuclear” option — moving to call the previous question — which could have triggered a melt down, with Democrats using procedural maneuvers to stall progress on all legislation.
Onder expressed displeasure at the concessions, but GOP Senate leadership declared victory.
“We all collectively stand as one to protect the unborn,” Rowden said, choking up. “It’s a subject we care deeply about.”
The legislation is House Bill 126.