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Senate women feel left out of abortion debate

May 03, 1999
By: Edward Klump
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 427

JEFFERSON CITY - As the Senate debate on partial-birth abortion has continued, the chamber's five women have been largely on the outside looking in.

Several of the women lawmakers have spoken on the floor about the issue, and some have even offered amendments. But the key and dominate players on both sides of the issue are men.

That's a situation that frustrates some of the women lawmakers.

"We need to let women take care of women's issues," said Sen. Mary Bland, D-Kansas City. "I think the experience of the mother should be in here somewhere."

Bland is an opponent to the bill. But even a woman supporter is upset about the male dominance of the issue.

Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St. Louis County, said she is a supporter of the partial-birth ban, but that she too has felt out of the loop during the discussion. Yeckel said the political position of women, and their lack of legal experience hurt them on this complicated topic.

"None of the women are the political leaders," she said. "We're not lawyers and this has been primarily a legal debate."

Yeckel said she raised her concerns to some of the male leaders who seem to have forgotten about the women.

"We've been giving them a hard time because they've had three meetings and they haven't included us," she said.

Bland said if a woman were to sponsor a bill, she would take it a little more seriously.

"At least I'd think it was from the proper source," she said. "Women ought to have some say about what should be done."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, said he thinks women have been quite involved. House said women have spoken on the floor, and that everyone can come to strategy meetings.

"There all invited," he said. "We need the input of all the senators."

Still, Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, said she is another supporter of the partial-birth ban who has been left out of meetings.

"Am I mad about this?" she asked. "Yes. Next time around they better allow us to participate in the debate."

Steelman said women need to work together to have more influence. She said the recent partial-birth abortion filibuster carried out by four members proves that women have the numbers to be influential.

But Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, said she has felt more included in the debate this year. Sims said that while men still dominate, her concerns about the wording of the bill and its legality have been addressed.

"For the first time, I haven't felt that I've been totally left out," she said.

Sims said two main senators trying to soften the bill -- Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, and Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia -- have included her in meetings and listened to her suggestions. She said she is happy with many of the changes to narrow the plan.

"I am no less pro-choice if I vote for this bill than I was yesterday," she said.

With the partial-birth debate winding down, Yeckel said women should look toward the future. She said women need to be more active in changing the Senate's past outlook.

"They've had years of experience with no women around," she said. "In the future, maybe we need to assert ourselves a little bit more."