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Women's Compromise Rejected

May 15, 1996
By: Dana Coleman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In an unprecedented display of solidarity, women senators united to present in the Senate a compromise version on abortion legislation.

But their effort was rejected Wednesday by their male colleagues including every GOP male Senator - even though all three women senators are Republican.

The women, whose plan was defeated 13-19, represented both sides of the abortion controversy. Two of them had voted for the abortion-restriction bill of last year.

The third, Sen. Betty Simms, R-St. Louis County, had voted against last year's bill.

"This is not a pro-life issue, this is not a pro-choice issue. It's a women's issue," she said.

The women lawmakers complained they had been excluded from the legislative discussions in drafting the original bill that was presented to the Senate.

"It seems to me that we three women in the Senate should really be consulted when there are bills that come up that really concern women," said Sen. Irene Treppler, R-St. Louis County.

"Between us, I would say we have probably had almost every female medical procedure that you've ever heard of except probably the one we are dealing with here."

And bit later, Simms issued a warning to her male colleagues: "I really say to you, I say to you my colleagues, I'd be very careful how I vote on this bill sponsored by women for women."

But the warning seemed to have little effect. Later in the evening, several male senators - with the female members absent - huddled outside the chamber trying to draft another version of the abortion. It led one of the woman senators to conclude their colleagues still had not gotten the point.

However, the women's plan did win support from four male Democrats who had voted for last year's abortion restrictions.

"I do not think that a bunch of hairy-legged old guys ought to be telling women the way it ought to be," said Sen. Jerry Howard, D-Dexter, who had voted for the anti-abortion bill of last year.

The women's plan would have imposed additional requirements on physicians and medical facilities, but those requirements would have been extended to all types of surgery - not just abortion as proposed in the House-passed bill.

Also like the original Senate proposal, there would be counselors to advise women on alternatives to abortion - but the counselors would have been state employees who provided information only if requested.

Senate Republican Leader Franc Flotron said the cost of hiring those counselors was the reason Republican males voted against the plan.

The unexpected female coalition's efforts attracted the attention of female legislative staffers from throughout the Capitol building.

In fact, immediately after their defeat, the staffers gave the three women senators a bouquet of balloons.

Defeated in the chamber and excluded from the subsequent abortion negotiations, the balloons were the most visible sign of their accomplishment.