By Blythe Nebeker and Abigail Shaw
The “strongest pro-life bill” in the country, as many Republicans are calling it, received final approval from the Missouri House last week after hours of emotional and personal testimony from lawmakers.
Democrats and Republicans told stories about miscarriages, sexual assault and their experiences with the births of their children in a series of speeches that led to a 117-39 vote to pass the bill. All Republicans and three Democrats voted yes, with several more Democrats absent or abstaining.
The delegation from south county voted along party lines, with Republicans David Gregory, Jim Murphy, Michael O’Donnell and Mary Elizabeth Coleman voting yes and Democrat Doug Beck voting no. Sarah Unsicker was absent.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where several Democrats have vowed to fight it.
House Bill 126, originally designed to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected — typically around six weeks of pregnancy — was expanded to include a number of additional elements, including a “trigger” that would ban abortion except in cases of medical emergency if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Among the other measures added to the bill, it increases parental notification requirements and prohibits abortion done solely because a baby would be born with Down syndrome.
On the Senate side, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, has proposed separate legislation that would ban all abortions except in medical emergencies and make it a class B felony to perform an abortion.
Abortion has been a popular subject for legislation this year. In a House committee hearing on three separate bills in February, an Oakville woman told lawmakers that she faced a choice more than 30 years ago.
Zina Hackworth, the former Tesson Ferry Township Republican committeewoman, said she ended up in the hospital shortly after becoming pregnant. She said doctors said her child would have so many problems that she should terminate the pregnancy.
Hackworth said she was brought a form, which she ripped to shreds.
“Even though they told us all of the problems they thought our child would have, we decided to trust the God who created this child,” Hackworth said. She said her son was born premature, but he’s now 31, healthy, married and serving in the military.
While the discussion on HB 126 was intense at times, many lawmakers thanked each other for making sure it did not devolve into personal attacks, which have marred abortion debates in the past.
Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said during the Feb. 26 debate that she had been abused as a child.
“At the end of the day, there is nothing in this legislation to protect women who experience rape and incest,” she said.
Over the past few weeks, several Republican lawmakers have expressed their desire to create a bill that can ultimately be appealed to the Supreme Court and challenge the Roe v. Wade decision.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said it was drafted in a way that will help it “survive judicial scrutiny.”
When drafting the bill, Schroer said he and other lawmakers looked at case law and other states’ legislation to determine necessary legal protections.
Schroer said he is “very optimistic” about the bill’s chances of passage, saying he has spoken with several Senate Republicans who have pledged to get it through.
But Democrats in the Senate, where it is possible to delay or kill legislation through filibustering, promise a fight.