JEFFERSON CITY - The issue of abortion has once again stolen the spotlight at the state capitol. The Senate Judiciary committee heard impassioned testimony both for and against SB 741, "The Caregiver Bill," on Wednesday afternoon.
Nothing has changed from last year's polemic bill that was vetoed by Gov. Carnahan. Sen. Ron Auer, D-St. Louis, sponsor of the bill, said that the bill will reach the Governor's office with enough changes to make it worth considering again, but didn't specify which would be the renegotiable points.
So seven months and much discussion after the veto, the bill remains identical.
One difference between last year's debate and Wednesday's hearing was that the state Department of Health took a very vocal stance against the bill this time. Last year it did not take a stand.
"The compulsory nature of the bill as a basic premise of women's issues is so conflicting with what we believe works with women that we won't support it," said Pamela Walker, Chief of the Office of Community and Governmental Relations at DOH.
SB 471 makes it mandatory for women to consult a "care giver" or case manager before having an abortion. Supporters of the bill claim it's the only way to make sure that every woman has the opportunity to consider other alternatives other than abortion when facing an unexpected pregnancy.
"I think the word 'pro-choice' does exemplify that someone has been given several options," said Jean Tiffany, a counselor who testified in favor of the bill.
"Why would anybody oppose counseling, considering other options," asked Faye Combs, who had an abortion in the 1970's. She said that at that time, an abortion clinic wouldn't give any alternatives. "For some of us, abortion is not the answer," she said.
Opponents to the bill allege that it constitutes an invasion of privacy, because in the case of a denial from the "case manager" to sign an authorization for an abortion, the woman would have to take an oath before a notary public and her data would become a public record.
This brings the point of the impartiality and control of the "case managers," the second big reason for last year's veto. Carnahan thought the legislation failed to protect women from harassment by "ideological extremists."
That was the case of Kathy Robinson, who testified yesterday saying that she answered a "free pregnancy test" sign when she couldn't afford to pay for one. While waiting for the results, she said the man performing the test "told me lies about birth control including erroneous assertions that I could hurt my ability to get pregnant in the future," Robinson said.
In her opinion, there is nothing in the bill to assure that the case managers empowered by the State to counsel pregnant women will be any different from the one she encountered.
"That man took advantage of my poverty by forcing inaccurate and unwanted information on me," Robinson said.