Why Every Missourian Should Support This Special Session

Article IV, section 9 of the Missouri Constitution grants the governor authority to call a special sessions. It states that, “On extraordinary occasions, he may convene the general assembly by proclamation, wherein he shall state specifically each matter on which action is deemed necessary.”

Over the past month, Capitol insiders have complained about Governor Greitens’ rhetoric and rumors of several special sessions for topics that do not clearly fit within the meaning of “extraordinary.”  One wise former senator opined on Facebook that, “Our constitution has set up a citizen legislature” and that “our founders designed a system of checks and balances designed to move at a snail’s pace to protect the liberty of the people.” While I agree with this sentiment, it is not adequate justification to oppose the calling of special sessions for specific reasons that fit the demands of the state constitution.

So, just what is an “extraordinary occasion?” There’s no court case on point. However, the plain meaning of the word “extraordinary” is that which is “beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established.”

The first special session Gov. Greitens called involved time sensitive legislation regarding a proposed steel mill and aluminum smelting facility that would add hundreds of jobs to our state.  Thus, the topic was certainly consistent with the previous issues and circumstances surrounding special sessions. For example, Gov. Nixon called special sessions relating to jobs proposals from Boeing and Ford – and no one seriously suggested that it failed constitutional muster or longstanding traditions.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greitens called the summer’s second special session, requesting the legislature to  pass legislation to protect women’s health by enacting “common-sense health and safety standards in abortion clinics.” Like the first call, Gov. Greitens’ second call clearly meets the extraordinary test: it is a response to a federal court decision handed down in late April that invalidated all of Missouri’s rules and regulations for abortion facilities.

In Comprehensive Health Planned Parenthood Great Plains v. Williams, Judge Howard Sachs of the federal court for Missouri’s Western District struck down the state’s regulations on abortion facilities as unconstitutional, citing a United States Supreme Court opinion from last year that invalidated similar regulations enacted in Texas.

Before handing down his decision in the case, Judge Sachs published a memo which explains the rationale for this special session, citing the state’s argument that a decision could “cause unintended collateral damage by deregulating abortion clinic requirements that are accepted as desirable and outside the concern of the Supreme Court in the Texas case.” In April, the Court suggested it might stay its decision “for a specified period until the General Assembly can take action.” Unfortunately, the Court denied a Motion for Stay in May.

Abortion rights supporters often argue that it must be kept legal in all circumstances so that it can be regulated. Supporters argue that restrictions would lead to “back alley abortions” where women are not safe. President Clinton famously said his position on abortion was that it should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Unfortunately, by striking all abortion facility regulations, the effect of the Order in Planned Parenthood v. Williams puts patient safety at risk if the legislature does not take swift action.

Planned Parenthood will probably argue in the next few weeks that abortion is among the safest of all medical procedures, with miniscule risks of complications for the patient undergoing the procedure. The truth is much different. Here are some basic facts about abortion safety for women in Missouri.

First, the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis had to call an ambulance 58 times in seven years (about once every month and a half). At least 23 of those emergency calls were to respond to hemorrhages, a complication of abortion.

Second, and unfortunately, because Planned Parenthood has failed to comply with state law requiring it to report abortion complications, we do not know how many other serious complications have occurred because of procedures at the facility. However, it is reasonable to assume that there are significantly more cases than those 23 worst case scenarios that resulted in an ambulance being called to the facility for hemorrhages.

Third, the St. Louis facility has been cited by the state Department of Health and Senior Services for hundreds of regulatory violations – including failure to perform criminal background checks on employees with patient contacts and failure to maintain a sterile facility. From 2009 to 2016, Planned Parenthood was cited for 111 times for failure to provide a safe and sanitary environment.

Fourth, abortion rights supporters have argued elsewhere that it is no more dangerous than a colonoscopy. Wrong. In support, abortion supporters have cited a 2015 study that found an abortion complication rate of 2.1 percent. But by comparison, a 2010 study of colonoscopy patients found a complication rate of 2.01 per 1,000 exams – or 0.2 percent. Reading these studies together suggests an abortion is 10 times more dangerous than a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are, of course, required by state regulations to be conducted in facilities that are safe and sterile. But, after the recent ruling, abortions are not.

If the legislature does not act, there will be no facility safety requirements at all for abortion providers – a result that all Missourians should oppose and that cannot wait to be fixed next year. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, everyone should agree that medical treatments should be provided in safe and sterile facilities. In response to the court’s decision, the legislature must and will move quickly to enact common sense regulations that protect patient safety.