For many years the Missouri General Assembly has demonstrated a commitment to protecting the health and safety of women and supporting pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes. Unfortunately, a bill passed in February by St. Louis City threatened the free speech rights, and even the very existence, of these wonderful charities. Additionally, on May 5, an activist federal judge jeopardized the health of Missouri women by removing longstanding common-sense safety standards for abortion clinics. Such actions demanded an immediate response by the General Assembly to clarify state law and our governor to call a special session for this purpose.
I am proud to report that following earlier action by the Missouri House of Representatives, last week the Missouri Senate passed and the governor signed the Women’s Health and Pregnancy Care Center Protection Act.
I worked with many of my colleagues to write this legislation to ensure this Act is one of the strongest pro-life bills ever passed by the General Assembly. The key provisions in the bill include:
- Annual Inspections: This bill requires clinic inspections to be performed yearly and unannounced to ensure compliance with state and federal laws and promote the health and safety of women.
- Attorney General Jurisdiction: This measure gives the Attorney General concurrent original jurisdiction to enforce Missouri abortion laws in certain circumstances.
- Pregnancy Resource Center Protections: This bill also protects the First Amendment rights of alternatives-to-abortion agencies by preempting the City of St. Louis’ “Abortion Sanctuary City” ordinance. Pro-life employers cannot be forced to pay for abortions by way of the health insurance that they provide their employees.
- Complication Plans: This measure requires a complication plan when certain drugs are used to induce chemical abortions.
- Consent to Abortion Procedures: This measure requires consent for medical procedures and risks to be informed to the woman orally by the physician performing the abortion or the referring physician.
- Definition of Abortion Facilities: This bill allows the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to propose common-sense health and safety standards for abortion clinics. This was necessary after previous standards were enjoined by an unelected federal judge.
- Interference with Medical Assistance: This act prohibits interference with emergency medical assistance if an employee of an abortion facility knowingly orders or requests medical personnel to deviate from any applicable standard of care.
- Tissue Reports: This measure ensures that all tissue removed at the time of the abortion is sent to a pathologist for examination within 72 hours and that the pathologist issues a report within 72 hours. The DHSS will check the reports and conduct an investigation if a deficiency is discovered.
- Whistleblower Protections: This measure will protect employees of an abortion facility, or any other facility involved in the abortion process, who disclose information concerning violations of law from retaliation from their employer.
The Women’s Health and Pregnancy Care Center Protection Act ensures abortion facilities do not operate in a regulatory desert that would put women using abortion facilities at risk of serious harm to their health. It is for these same reasons we have similar regulations and regular inspections of hospitals and nursing homes, and this Act means abortion clinics are not exempt from the standards of care that govern other areas of medical practice. Additionally, this Act protects First Amendment rights from being trampled on by local governments and protects the rights of alternatives-to-abortion agencies, whose tireless work is giving women the chance to choose life for their unborn children.
Robert F. (Bob) Onder