JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators early Thursday morning passed legislation to require new abortion restrictions, such as annual health inspections of clinics, and to overturn a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination based on the procedure.
The measure passed 20-8 after little debate by senators and now heads to the House, which is expected to take up the measure next week.
Missouri already has some of the nation's toughest abortion laws, and lawmakers are weighing the legislation after Republican Gov. Eric Greitens called a special legislative session specifically on abortion.
Greitens said he called the special session, the second since lawmakers ended their annual session in May, in reaction to the St. Louis ordinance banning discrimination in employment and housing based on "reproductive health decisions" and a federal judge's ruling that struck down some Missouri abortion restrictions passed in previous legislative sessions.
The ruling, which the state is appealing, tossed out requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. Greitens wants lawmakers to enact other restrictions on clinics in place of those that were struck down.
"It's all about protecting women's health and safety and making sure we have a regulatory environment for this particular industry," said Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican who sponsored the legislation that passed the Senate.
Also pending are applications by regional Planned Parenthood agencies to the health department seeking to get licenses to provide abortions in Columbia, Joplin, Kansas City and Springfield. Planned Parenthood now only offers the procedure in St. Louis.
Sen. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat, said she's concerned that new regulations, more of which could also be created by the Department of Health and Senior Services under the legislation, might lead to barriers for those locations to start offering abortions. She described the proposals pending in the Legislature as a "broad attack on women's reproductive rights."
"Bills that try to make it very difficult for women to access that reproductive health option, which is her right to do, are dangerous," she said.
Missouri is one of only five states to require women to wait 72 hours after receiving counseling before getting an abortion, which according to the Guttmacher Institute is the nation's longest waiting period. The institute is a national organization that supports abortion rights. Missouri also already bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions, one of 17 states with that limit.
The measure under consideration would also allow the state attorney general, now Republican abortion opponent Josh Hawley, authority to prosecute violations of abortion laws. But senators tempered that power, adding a stipulation that the state's top law enforcement official can only step in if local officials don't act.
Other provisions include time limits of five business days for abortion clinics to submit fetal tissue samples from abortions for examination by pathologists, who would get 72 hours to submit a report or 24 hours if there is not evidence that an abortion was completed. Currently, there are no deadlines.
Koenig said the reports are needed to make sure abortions are completed and no tissue is left over after the procedure, which he said could pose a health risk.