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Abortion Bill Heading to Governor

May 16, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A bill regulating abortion clinics is one small step away from the desk of Gov. Mel Carnahan after the Missouri Senate overwhelmingly approved it Thursday afternoon.

House sponsor Pat O'Connor, D-St. Louis County, said that although the Senate watered down his original proposal, he will still support it.

"At this point I'm going to run with whatever I've got," O'Connor said. "I don't like it, but politics is the art of compromise."

O'Connor said he will ask the House to accept the Senate's measure today. House approval would send the bill to the governor.

The measure has been so diluted that it got yes votes from abortion-rights supporters in the Senate. And even the governor did not rule out signing the bill.

Carnahan said he has not yet had time to look over the bill and decide whether he is willing to sign it.

O'Connor's original bill required licensing for abortion facilities and a minimum of $1 million in malpractice insurance for doctors who perform abortions. Carnahan had threatened to veto such a bill.

The Senate-approved version, drafted by Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City, replaces the licensing requirement with a mandatory annual inspection of all abortion clinics. The bill also sets up a referral system to educate pregnant women about abortion alternatives.

The measure passed the Senate after the defeat Wednesday night of another version drafted by the only three women in the Senate, all of whom are Republicans. Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, told the Senate that it was time women legislators were included in the debate about abortion.

But their plan, which did not include Wiggins' inspection provisions, was shot down by male Republicans, every one of which voted against them.

Sims said she would rather have seen her version pass, but she has no problems with Wiggins' bill - although the women senators were not included in the negotiations to draft the final compromise. She also said she is enthusiastic about the bill's referral program.

"The important thing is that we make abortion safe in Missouri," Sims said. "I think this bill does that."

Crystal Williams, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood said even the more lenient version of the bill approved by the Senate has problems.

She said one section requiring physicians performing abortions to stay in the same building as the patient until the patient's discharge could be used to attack drug-induced abortions.

"This is a really well-veiled attempt to make drug-induced abortions completely unworkable and potentially illegal," she said. "The senators supported this because they didn't see it."

O'Connor, who discussed the section with Williams, said she is grasping at straws.

"She's trying to get hold of whatever she can to derail this," he said. "Sen. Joe Moseley put that language in and he knows what he's doing."

Later in the day, the Senate added to an anti-crime bill a prohibition on partial-birth abortions.

In a related story, Planned Parenthood of Mid-Missouri and Eastern Kansas announced that they had filed suit in U.S. District Court against the state Health Department Director, Coleen Kivlahan.

The suit challenges a legal restriction on family planning programs that prevents the state providing funds to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Planned Parenthood President Patricia Brous said they have been denied a slice of the family planning pie because they happen to use private money to provide abortion services and advocate abortion rights.

"We've been audited and it has been certified that we comply with all state rules for the spending of public money," Brous said. "The legislature has no legal right to exclude us from receiving general revenue funds."

Legislators who have supported the restriction argue that because the clinics offer abortion services, any state funding would indirectly amount to state government support of abortion.