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Abortion Debate Twists

September 11, 1997
By: David Grebe and Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's partial-birth abortion controversy took a strange twist Thursday when the governor who vetoed legislation to ban the procedure called on lawmakers to pass another ban while sponsors of the original ban called for a delay.

Both sides denied they were playing politics or seeking political cover.

At a hastily scheduled news conference late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mel Carnahan called on abortion rights opponents in the Senate to support his version of a partial-birth abortion bill.

Twenty four hours after his veto of a partial-birth abortion ban was sustained, Carnahan and Senate Democrats said the Senate should move soon on a nearly identical bill.

"We need to promptly deal with this," Carnahan said from the side gallery of the Senate, flanked by several Senate Democrats who had voted to sustain his veto.

Earlier in the day, anti-abortion rights leaders said the issue would not be brought up again until January.

Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, sponsored the original partial-birth abortion ban that was vetoed by the Governor. He said that the issue should be left until the next session.

"I don't think it will come to anything. I think we will adjourn without having addressed it," Kinder said. "We need to let the dust settle and we can come back in January."

Each side accused the other of political motivations in their actions on the issue.

"They're not going to get their bill, and even if they were to override, they know it's unconstitutional," Carnahan said.

Carnahan denied he was promoting his version of the ban in order to provide political cover to Democrats who switched their votes.

Meanwhile, the top leader of the Senate said Thursday he will block Senate action on any of the abortion bills until there's agreement on a bill the governor can sign.

Senate President Pro Tem Bill McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said that he will not allow Senate action on the issue to proceed until a majority of the Senate tells him they agree on a bill the governor would sign.

"I've been asking the people on both sides where they are," said McKenna. "Maybe this weekend we can come up with something that makes sense. If both sides don't want to work on it, it probably won't happen."

McKenna, who voted to override the governor's veto, has refused to assign the two abortion bills to committee. That effectively blocks Senate action on the measures.

The deadlock does not center on the partial birth abortion ban -- both sides agree the ban is necessary. Both sides also agree to an exemption involving the life of the woman.

The disagreement is over an exemption the governor demands to allow the procedure when the doctor deems it necessary to protect the woman's health.

On Wednesday the Senate came one vote short of overriding the governor's veto of the bill banning a late-term abortion procedure. Supporters of the bill needed 23 votes to override, but got only 22 when Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, became the lone Republican to vote for sustainment.

Sims voted against other members of her party because an exemption for the woman's health was necessary.

"Actually I'd spent a lot of time studying the bill," Sims said. "I have not changed my stand on the procedure. I'm very concerned about the language of the bill ... We have to protect these young women."

Minutes after the vote to sustain, the governor announced he was expanding the agenda of the special session to include a ban on partial birth abortion that includes the woman's life and health exemptions.

"I don't really know why he did that," Sims said. "I'm prepared to introduce the bill in January."