JEFFERSON CITY — Inspired by President Donald Trump’s moves to shape a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, Missouri Republicans raced the clock to join a parade of other states seeking to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
Facing a 6 p.m. Friday adjournment deadline and a deep desire by Democrats to block the sweeping legislation, senators worked overnight on a package of changes that would ban the vast majority of abortions in Missouri.
Shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday, the GOP-led Senate approved a version of a sweeping abortion bill that the House had approved months earlier. The measure will need another vote in the House before heading to Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, who is expected to sign the legislation.
"We all collectively stand as one to protect the unborn," Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said after the vote, which fell along party lines, 24-10. "It's a subject we care deeply about."
Although Missouri already is one of the more restrictive states when it comes to access to abortion, the latest push by the Republican-controlled Legislature comes amid a nationwide effort by abortion foes to get anti-abortion laws on the books that could be upheld by the newly revamped high court.
At a campaign-style rally in his office, Parson on Wednesday evening urged the Senate to approve the package.
“We have the opportunity to be one of the strongest pro-life states in the country,” Parson said. “It’s a God-given right to live. That’s why we’re here today, to protect people who don’t have a voice.”
Democrats held court on the Senate floor for much of the day, stopping other work and criticizing the legislation and working to try to ease some of its harsher provisions.
“I would characterize this legislation as extreme,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City. “I think this legislation will be struck down as unconstitutional.”
“This is an unconscionable use of our power as a legislature,” added Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.
Under the House's version, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, and handled in the Senate by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, abortions would be banned if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. It would also make abortion illegal in Missouri if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade.
Specifically, the measure would require providers to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing abortions or pay a $1,000 fine and face a potential loss or revocation of a physicians’ medical license.
The provision is similar to “heartbeat” laws put on the books in Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia that ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
Kentucky’s six-week ban was challenged after it was signed in March, and a federal judge temporarily blocked it. Similar versions of the law have been struck down in North Dakota and Iowa.
If the heartbeat provision is struck down, the bill calls for abortions at the “pain capable gestational age,” or about 20 weeks after fertilization, to be prohibited.
The Missouri proposal also includes a requirement that both parents be notified if a minor seeks an abortion. And, Republicans tacked on a provision barring abortions from being performed solely because the fetus has Down syndrome.
The measure says an abortion can be performed in “cases of medical emergency,” which is defined as “a condition which, based on reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert the death of the pregnant woman or for which a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, told reporters the measure is not designed to draw a court challenge.
Rather, he said, “This is the type of legislation designed to withstand a challenge.”
Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said abortion was one of the primary reasons she ran for office last year.
“We want to make abortion not only illegal, but unthinkable,” Coleman said.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, blasted the Republican reaction to Trump’s attempt to swing the balance of the court to the conservative side.
“They are pandering to this goofball,” Nasheed said. “He’s dangerous.”
The abortion measure was approved in the House in February on a 117-39 vote.
Opponents said abortion laws should be left alone in order to allow women to decide what’s best for their lives.
Schupp outlined several problematic provisions within the measure, but said one was particularly troubling.
“There was no exception for a pregnancy caused by rape or incest,” Schupp said.
“This is a massive blow to the reproductive rights of women in the state of Missouri. Everyone should be appalled by that,” Nasheed said.
St. Louis has the only clinic able to offer abortions in the state. Last year, there were 2,911 abortions performed in Missouri, down from 3,903 in 2017, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services.
M’Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, called the legislation an attack on health care.
“The state of health care in Missouri is abysmal. Gov. Parson is willfully aiding in the systematic downturn of health outcomes across our state, and banning safe, legal abortion is just the latest effort,” Mead said.
But, said Onder, “There is still more work to do.”
After hours of closed-door meetings late Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, was unwilling to say whether a deal had been struck to move forward with a vote.
But, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, suggested the Senate could return to action as early as 11:30 p.m. to resume debate, but 11:30 came and went without movement.
The Senate eventually convened after 3 a.m. Thursday and had approved the bill within the hour.
The legislation is House Bill 126.
Jack Suntrup of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.