Senator Onder: The Immediate Need for Action on Life

The Immediate Need for Action on Life
Robert F. Onder, M.D.
Missouri State Senate, District 2


The Missouri General Assembly has, for many years, demonstrated a commitment to protecting the health and safety of women and the dignity of the unborn, passing various laws to further these ends.  A number of recent developments, though, have dealt serious blows to these laws and merit immediate attention in a special session of the Legislature.

On Monday, May 22, 2017, the maternity home Our Lady’s Inn, Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of the Archdioceses of St. Louis and St. Louis businessman Frank O’Brien filed a federal lawsuit against the “abortion sanctuary city” ordinance passed by the City of St. Louis in February.  As the plaintiffs note, the bill, which purports to be an “anti-discrimination” ordinance for those making “reproductive health decisions,” is so broad that it would “force nonprofit organizations like Our Lady’s Inn, whose mission is to promote and facilitate abortion alternatives, to hire abortion advocates, despite their opposition to the ministry’s reason for existence.”  It would also force pro-life employers like the Archdiocese and Mr. O’Brien to pay for abortions by way of the health insurance that they provide their employees.  This clear and present threat to free speech and religious liberty posed by this abortion sanctuary city ordinance requires immediate action on the part of the Legislature.

If this were not enough, on April 19th, United States District Court Judge Howard Sachs ruled a longstanding Missouri public safety statute unconstitutional. The law included the common sense requirements that abortion clinics abide by state regulations on ambulatory surgical centers.  In other words, patients’ having minor outpatient surgery such as cosmetic procedures, LASIK and colonoscopies may be protected, but women seeking invasive surgical abortions may not.  Likewise, Judge Sachs struck down another sensible law requiring that the abortion doctor actually have hospital privileges at a nearby hospital, something I believe most patients take for granted.

The ruling was followed by Planned Parenthood announcing its intention to open four new abortion clinics in Missouri.  Judge Sachs seems to believe that Missouri women are best served when their reproductive health services take place in a regulatory desert that would never be tolerated in other areas of health care.  I, as a physician and a legislator, disagree.

These cases demand an immediate response to clarify state law, to protect the health and safety of women, and to preserve the constitutional rights of Missourians.  This is not an issue that can wait until January of 2018, but demands a special session of the General Assembly.

During the regular session of the General Assembly, we took action on these issues.  Representative Diane Franklin and I sponsored bills to ensure women’s safety and create accountability measures for fetal organs and tissue.  This bill was the product of the 2015 Missouri Senate Committee on the Sanctity of Life that revealed safety issues in abortion clinics and found a startling lack of compliance with laws to ensure fetal tissue accountability and prevent fetal organ trafficking.  Representative Tila Hubrecht, R-Dexter, and Senator Wayne Wallingford, R- Cape Girardeau, sponsored bills to protect Missourians from the sanctuary city ordinance.

The Missouri House passed both bills, but an obstructive minority of Missouri Senators blocked both bills.

I understand that governors call the Legislature into special session with the greatest of reluctance.  As a general rule most laws are passed during the regular session of the Legislature, but sometimes urgent circumstances arise that demand immediate action.  Now is such a time.  I urge Governor Eric Greitens to call for a special session to protect the health and safety of women, and the freedom of speech and religious liberty of all Missourians.