JEFFERSON CITY -Wet streets and icy sidewalks were the only things separating church and state Monday, as anti-abortion forces rallied for their 1996 legislative agenda of pushing through stricter abortion legislation.
Approximately 75 anti-abortion activists and legislators gathered in front of St. Peter Catholic Church just adjacent from the Capitol. They said they are confident that under new House leadership last year's stricter abortion legislation would get a fair hearing in the coming weeks' state legislature.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Auer, D-St. Louis, would require all women seeking abortions to contact a private counselor before the abortion could be performed.
"Things have changed drastically over the past five years," Rep. Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City said at the rally. "The time has come to receive fair and open debate."
During last year's session, abortion issues dominated the House during the entire session. For several years former House Speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron blocked the abortion restriction issue to coming to house floor.
This time, things are moving a little quicker. House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly said he refuses to use his power to block legislation. Last Thursday, Gaw assigned the bill to a Children, Youth and Families committee, where supporters of abortion restrictions hold both the committee chairmanship and a majority of the members. During last year's floor vote, nine of the committee members voted for the bill. Eight voted against it. One member missed the key House abortion vote, but supported abortion opponents on other issues.
"I thought it was a fair committee to put it in," Gaw said. "The numbers are close in that one. It's the closest one to being fair."
But this type of legislation is new to the committee.
"In recent history, this committee never heard this piece of legislation before," Chairman Rep. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis said.
That's not stopping anything though, said Dougherty, who wants to see the bill out of committee and onto House floor by Feb. 1.
"I don't think anyone wants to see legislation held up," he said. "Last year was pretty contentious to drag on for a long time."
Abortion-rights supporters said they will fight against stricter abortion bills. Today, they will meet with legislators in the Capitol at 10:30 a.m.
"They (Anti-abortion supporters) have yelled year after year that they want one bill," Planned Parenthood lobbyist Crystal Williams said. "We will be there fighting it every step of the way."
Williams voiced concern about the bill continuing through the legislative process and moving onto the House floor.
"There's no chance those bad bills will die in that committee," she said.