Special Session II – Week One

The General Assembly returned for the year’s second special session this week to work on legislation concerning abortion. On Wednesday, while the Senate went through its machinations, I was honored to present House Bill 6 to the House Committee on Children and Families.

House Bill 6

Among other things, this legislation would respond to recent court cases by re-instating the Department of Health and Senior Services’ statutory authority to regulate abortion clinics for the health and safety of patients in a way that is likely to meet requirements the United States Supreme Court outlined last year in the case,Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Examples of these reasonable regulations include requirements that clinics have complication plans to ensure safety; another requirement that abortion facilities be designed such that a patient can be transported from a procedure room to an ambulance; and ensuring that infection control protocols remain in place.

Though not in the current version of the bill, there was also discussion in committee to require every abortion facility to have a written protocol for managing medical emergencies and the transfer of patients requiring further emergency care to a hospital within a reasonable distance of the abortion facility. This language is important for our state because there is evidence that the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis has had dozens of emergency room calls for patients suffering dangerous hemorrhages, a known abortion complication. In addition to these requirements, HB 6 would require the facility  provide evidence to DHSS that physician abortion providers in our state are actually licensed physicians and subject to annual inspections. HB 6 would also grant the state attorney general concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute criminal violations of the state’s abortion laws.

The committee hearing featured passionate but respectful debate from both sides – and worked to identify ways to improve the bill.

Protecting Pro-Life Advocates

Another part of Governor Greitens’ call for special session would protect pregnancy resource centers and other pro-life organizations from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s radical pro-abortion agenda.  It would pre-empt an ordinance that St. Louis  just passed that requires religiously-affiliated organizations, including schools, to hire or lease office space to people who support abortion and thus violate the leasor’s deeply-held religious beliefs. For example, a pregnancy resource center that exists to encourage women to choose life by providing them care and resources, should not be forced to hire someone who proudly and loudly supports abortion on demand. Nor should they be forced to lease space to Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider. The bill also pre-empts any local ordinances that would attempt to limit the free speech rights of pregnancy resource centers by prohibiting them from counseling, referring, or communicating with women in crisis situations.

House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. Hannah Kelly would protect the First Amendment rights of pro-life advocates. Some legislators have asked how this could fit the call for an “extraordinary” situation under our state Constitution. Since at least 1976, the Supreme Court has stated that “the loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury” that is enough to justify the extraordinary judicial remedy of a motion for preliminary injunction. In fact, Planned Parenthood relies on this specific line of cases when it urges federal courts to issue injunctions against state laws that impact abortion. The same logic applies to pro-life advocates. The state should not sit idly by “for even minimal periods of time” when a local government enacts legislation or a regulation that impairs Missourians’ First Amendment rights.

The Cost of Special Session

I was asked in the committee whether this bill was worth the extra money spent for special session. Yes. If every member attends every day of session, the tab is about $20,000 per day. But that’s not how special sessions typically operate. Instead, sometimes the Senate is in session (or near full session) and the House is not – and vice versa. For this week, when the Senate was in session, it likely cost less than $7,000 per day for two days of substantive activity. Next week, when the House convenes, the cost will increase because there are five times as many House members; .  so,  about $15,000 per day. To me, the legislation’s importance justifies the cost.

What Happens Next?

While the House committee meeting went on for seven hours Wednesday, the Senate was working on its own version of the legislation. Sometime around midnight, the Senate passed a bill and sent it to the House. It is too early to determine what the House’s next step will be – that will be answered over the next five days. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to debating these measures on the House floor next week.