Bill to make coercion to abort a crime
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Bill to make coercion to abort a crime

Date: February 19, 2008
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 1058

JEFFERSON CITY - A husband could be charged with a crime if he threatened to divorce his wife unless she had an abortion under a measure presented to the House Health Care Committee on Tuesday. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, would make coercing a woman to have an abortion a crime. Included in the bill's definition of coercion is "filing, attempting to file or threatening to file" for divorce. 

Michelle Trupiano, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, said she should be able to "weigh all of her life circumstances without government intrusion."

"Planned Parenthood takes every step to make sure that women are not coerced into an abortion," Trupiano said. "This expansion takes the decision-making ability away from women."

Onder said he thinks Trupiano's testimony sounded like she was "in favor of coercion."

The bill also describes coercion as threatening to revoke a scholarships, stalking, engaging or attempting to engage in abuse and threatening to discharge from employment.  

Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, asked during the committee hearing if the existing laws already provided support for women in certain situations of coercion. She said discriminatory laws already defend pregnant women.

"That's why we have laws on the books that protect women from discrimination being pregnant," she said.

Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, raised question with the bill. "I'm not fully convinced we need the law," he said, adding that existing policies already cover coercion.

He also said coercion needs to be narrowly defined.

"The second half of that bill is wide open and would get us into trouble," he said.

Rep. Sam Komo, D-House Springs, questioned whether the bill would impose on family matters.

"Are we getting into what the family talks about around the kitchen table on a family matter?" he said. "Are we making families fearful to talk about their situations because it might come back and haunt them?"

Komo said someone may say something in the heat of the moment and that the family should not be charged for misdemeanor charges.

"Mere discussion of the pros and cons of the woman obtaining an abortion is not what this bill is aimed at," Onder said. "It's really only when there is some sort of a threat or illegal behavior being used."

A representative for the American Civil Liberties Union testified against the bill.

"This would infringe and invade speech," said John Coffman of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. He said he thinks it is interfering with the First Amendment right to free speech.

The bill also would require that physicians who perform abortions would have to advise women about alternatives, a provision Onder said would provide adequate information for women to make the decision.

But Coffman charged that provision would "invade physician-patient relationship." He said doctors may not agree with the details of what the law would require them to tell women.

Onder disagreed.

"That's why the materials are provided by the Department of Health, so that they will be as objective as possible," he said.

He also said most of it will be common knowledge.