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Republicans block attempt to add rape, incest exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.
Eric Lee
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.

Republicans thwarted an effort to add rape and incest exceptions to Missouri’s near-total abortion ban on Wednesday but were unable to push a bill to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements to a vote.

Under Missouri law, abortion is illegal except in cases of a medical emergency when “a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

The Senate debated a bill Wednesday evening sponsored by state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican from Arnold, that would change Missouri law to make Planned Parenthood ineligible to receive reimbursements from MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program.

“This is an attempt to once and for all, make it clear in statute that… the state does not want any funds to be abused or provided to a provider who is affiliated with Planned Parenthood,” Coleman said Wednesday.

But most of Wednesday’s debate was dominated by Democratic senators opposing Coleman’s bill and offering amendments seeking to add rape and incest exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban.

“Their privacy was violated. And now we’re saying that the government is going to force them to give birth to a child,” said state Sen. Tracy McCreery, a Democrat from Olivette. “It’s gone too far.“

Wednesday’s showdown was the first time the Senate has debated a bill since the session began Jan. 3. Clearing the path to get it on the floor meant that a bill renewing provider taxes essential to the Medicaid system was set aside, along with proposals to make it more difficult to pass a constitutional amendment and to expand a tax credit to help pay for private school tuition.

The Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri clinic on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in the Central West End.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
The Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri clinic on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in the Central West End.

Planned Parenthood funding

Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any state money for nearly two years, as legal fights over past GOP defunding efforts play out in court. Planned Parenthood officials have said they’ve continued treating all patients, even without reimbursements coming in.

The two Planned Parenthood affiliates operating in the state – Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri – no longer provide abortions in Missouri.

But Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri do still provide other reproductive health care, such as cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment and contraceptives.

Planned Parenthood leaders have argued that eliminating their services would land a devastating blow to the public health safety net.

The Senate jumped straight to legislation defunding Planned Parenthood Wednesday out of concern that the issue would get latched onto a bill extending taxes essential to funding Medicaid.

That’s what happened in 2021, forcing the legislature into special session to detangle the issues and ensure the taxes were not jeopardized.

The provider taxes, known as the federal reimbursement allowance, are levies on hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance providers and pharmacies used as the required match for federal Medicaid funds.

The taxes provide more than $4 billion in direct and matching funds for the $17 billion program

State Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican from Springfield and sponsor of the provider tax extension, was first in line for debate and reluctantly set his bill aside so the Senate could debate Coleman’s legislation. He worries any restrictive language could endanger federal approval of the taxes, and so he wants to remove the expiration date so the issue doesn’t have to be debated again.

“To me, it does not make sense to move forward on a path like this when we don’t have an outcome,” Hough said.

Democrats opposed to Coleman’s bill forced roll calls on each exemption they offered.

State Sen, Lauren Arthur, a Democrat from Kansas City, called Missouri’s abortion law “one of the most archaic and mean-spirited extreme bans in the entire country,” adding that further restricting Missourians’ right to choose their healthcare provider is “a slap in the face after people have been living under this extreme abortion ban.”

Missouri state Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, is photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom in Midtown St. Louis.
Tristen Rouse
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St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri state Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, is photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom in Midtown St. Louis.

Rape and incest exceptions defeated

Most of Wednesday’s debate had little to do with Planned Parenthood.

As Coleman’s bill was brought up for debate, McCreery introduced two amendments that would add exemptions to Missouri’s abortion ban for victims of rape and incest.

“They’ve already survived enough trauma,” McCreery said. “They shouldn’t have to go to another state to get compassionate medical care.”

She pleaded with her colleagues to have “an ounce of compassion” for victims.

Republican senators, however, did not greet McCreery’s amendments warmly.

“I can’t imagine that Missouri is going to be a better place tomorrow if we have individuals inflicting abortion on kids, because that number is zero today,” said state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring who is also a candidate for governor.

During his State of the State address last month, Gov. Mike Parson touted that since the constitutional right to an abortion was overturned in June 2022, there had been zero abortions in Missouri. However, the governor did not account for legal abortions that happened under the state’s medical emergencies exemption.

In 2023, 37 abortions were performed in Missouri, and between June and December of 2022, 15 abortions were performed in the state, according to data obtained by The Independent from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

State Sen. Mike Moon, a Republican from Ash Grove who has filed legislation to impose criminal penalties on women who seek abortions, spent 12 minutes listing well-known people conceived through rape or incest after suggesting authorities shoot or castrate rapists.

State Sen. Rick Brattin, a Republican from Harrisonville, agreed.

“If you want to go after the rapist, let’s give him the death penalty. Absolutely, let’s do it, but not the innocent person caught in between,” he said. “That by God’s grace may even be the greatest healing agent you need in which to recover from such an atrocity.”

State Sen. Barbara Washington, a Democrat from Kansas City, arguing in support of the rape and incest exemption, said her great grandmother was raped by her slave master. Washington said she is alive because of that rape, but that the rape was so traumatic for her great grandmother that she died by suicide.

State Sen. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat, asked if his Republican colleagues were advocating for a 9-year-old girl who is raped to be forced to give birth.

“What they’re arguing is intellectually indefensible,” he said. “It makes no sense. And it’s morally indefensible.”

While rape would be “mentally taxing” for anyone, said Republican state Sen. Sandy Crawford, it doesn’t justify an abortion.

“God is perfect,” she said. “God does not make mistakes. And for some reason he allows that to happen. Bad things happen.”

Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, leans into a conversation with Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, on Thursday, May 11, 2023, during the waning hours of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, leans into a conversation with Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, on Thursday, May 11, 2023, during the waning hours of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.

Debate suspended

The Senate adjourned just before 6 p.m. after voting down both of McCreery’s amendments along party lines and with an amendment still pending from Democratic state Sen. Doug Beck of Affton that would allow girls 12 and under to obtain abortions.

Debate ended when Brattin tried to attach language repealing a sunset date on last year’s ban on gender-affirming medical treatments for youth.

The upcoming 3rd Congressional District Republican primary provided a political undercurrent to Wednesday’s debate. Coleman, the sponsor of the Planned Parenthood bill, is an announced candidate, as is former state Sen. Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis.

The legislation could provide Coleman with an advantage winning anti-abortion endorsements in the campaign.

Onder was endorsed by the Missouri Right to Life PAC in his now-abandoned bid for lieutenant governor, but that endorsement doesn’t carry over to the 3rd District, Right to Life Executive Director Susan Klein said Wednesday.

“Every race,” Klein said, “is looked at separately.”

This story was originally published in the Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Anna Spoerre
Rudi Keller