With speed and certainty that surprised even its strongest supporters, one of the most comprehensive pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country cleared the Missouri House of Representatives on Feb. 26.
Sponsored by state Rep. Nick Schroer of O’Fallon and amended several times, HB 126 contains numerous provisions for protecting pre-born babies and the health and safety of their mothers.
It would outlaw abortions after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected. With modern technology, that could be as early as eight weeks after conception.
It would also forbid abortions based on race, gender or a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
It would require anyone giving referrals for out-of-state abortions to present the state’s informed consent materials.
Those materials state that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Under HB 126, both custodial parents would be required to be notified when a minor seeks an abortion, except when there is a documented history of abuse, neglect or sexual assault, or when a custodial parent cannot be found.
It would require people who perform or induce abortions to carry $1 million in malpractice insurance.
It would outlaw almost all abortions in Missouri if a federal anti-abortion law or amendment gets passed or if the U.S. Supreme Court vacates its 1973 decisions that decriminalized abortion in all 50 states.
It would acknowledge God as the author of life and declare Missouri to be a “sanctuary of life” that protects pregnant women and their unborn children.
The bill contains a severability clause, which means that if any sections are struck down in court, the other sections would remain in force.
Deacon Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, believes members of the Missouri House, fueled by the passion of their constituents, want to send a message to the rest of the country.
“It is a fundamental duty of government to protect the lives of innocent people, and there’s no one more innocent than an unborn child,” said Deacon Lee, a permanent deacon in the St. Louis archdiocese. “And there is no greater duty you have as a lawmaker than to do everything in the law to protect their life, both before and after birth.”
State lawmakers told Deacon Lee that they’ve heard from constituents who are appalled at a recently passed New York state law expanding access to abortion, allowing late-term abortions and letting non-doctors perform abortions.
Virginia, New Mexico and other states have introduced and debated legislation similar to New York’s “Reproductive Health Act,” including callous discussions about babies born alive during failed abortions.
“What we’re hearing is, ‘If those states will have abortion-on-demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy and even legalize infanticide if a child survives an abortion, then Missouri is saying we’re going to do the exact opposite. We’re going to do everything we can to protect the unborn child and his or her mother,’” said Deacon Lee.
“Worthy of protection”
In testimony given during a House committee hearing Feb. 22, the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency for the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, endorsed HB 126 and urged lawmakers to “pass legislation defending the lives of children in the womb to the greatest extent possible since the life of every child is worthy of our protection.”
MCC Executive Director Deacon Tyler McClay acknowledged that courts have previously struck down heartbeat legislation in other states.
But the courts themselves are changing through ongoing judicial appointments. New judges and Supreme Court justices could interpret these laws differently.
Deacon McClay, an attorney, said HB 126 offers a potential reviewing court a chance to reconsider the benchmark for when a state may constitutionally protect human life.
“Right now, the courts say states can outlaw abortion at the point of viability, when the child is able to survive outside the womb,” he said. “This bill gives the courts the opportunity to set a different standard for when a state can outlaw abortion — based upon benchmarks in fetal development that science and technology are now making it possible for us to know — such as the date a heartbeat or brain waves can be detected.”
As amended, HB 126 includes a series of ascending benchmarks in case the courts strike down the heartbeat provision.
“In an ingenious way, it offers science and new technology as a rationale for curtailing abortion at each benchmark for fetal development,” said Deacon McClay. “It may turn out to be a good test case for the courts.”
If so, “it could certainly put Missouri in the forefront of the pro-life movement in terms of getting a test case before the court,” he said.
House members debated for over two hours before voting on the final passage of HB 126, including passionate and often deeply personal testimony.
One representative spoke of finding out that his mother had aborted one of his siblings. The sense of loss never went away.
Another spoke of having a miscarriage and being able to make out tiny fingers on the baby after 10 weeks of pregnancy.
There were stories of people who were adopted and are grateful to their birth mothers for not aborting them.
In the end, the perfected bill passed the House by a 3-to-1 margin — 117-39.
In a statement, Gov. Michael L. Parson lauded the House’s action and said he’s eager to sign the bill into law.
But it must first be voted on in the state Senate, a much smaller and traditionally more deliberative body than the House.
The Senate, as of March 5, had not taken up HB 126 or assigned it to a committee.
Senate procedures — such as allowing individual members to continue debating until a majority of the senators vote to call for the question — are designed to promote compromise.
Deacon Lee said the principles at stake in HB 126 do not lend themselves to such compromise.
“We’re talking about fundamental issues,” he said. “You’re asking things like, ‘Where there’s a human life, where there’s a heartbeat, should that life be allowed to be killed?’ And, ‘If Roe v. Wade is overturned, should we have a law in place that would prohibit abortions except in the most extraordinary of circumstances — such as the life of the mother or if the pregnancy poses very serious physical health consequences?’”
He urged all Missourians to thank the House members who voted for the bill, and to urge their senators to do likewise.
“The first and last thing you need to say whenever you’re talking to one of your lawmakers about defending human life is ‘thank you,’” he stated.
The current legislative session continues until 6 p.m. on May 17.
The Church has long upheld the objective universal truth that all human beings have a right to life from the first moment of their existence.
Deacon McClay emphasized that Catholics have the long view and will continue fighting to uphold the dignity and sanctity of all human life.
“It’s a battle we have to keep fighting,” said Deacon McClay, “and not just on stopping abortions but also stopping what leads to abortions and the overall disrespect for human life.”