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Abortion Debate

September 08, 1999
By: Mamie Smith
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -The governor's chief of staff conceded they still do not know whether enough legislators will side with the governor's veto of a partial-birth abortion ban.

"We really don't know," said Chris Sifford, director of communications for Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Sifford's comments came after a historic face-off between Carnahan and Missouri Catholic Conference lobbyist Lou DeFeo.

After the meeting, DeFeo expressed frustration with the debate's format. "I was genuinely disappointed that we didn't have a lawyer-to-lawyer civil conversation to discuss this," he said.

Instead of directly answering DeFeo during the meeting, Carnahan referred most questions to his legal counsel, Joe Bednar.

Last spring the legislature passed the partial-birth abortion bill by 80 percent. It needs a two-thirds majority to override a veto.

Wednesday's debate centered on three key topics: the lack of an health exception clause; questions about exactly which procedures the bill prohibits; and the potential for violence against abortion officials.

Carnahan charged that vague language in the bill would lead to banning abortions as early as the second month of pregnancy. He also repeated his demand that the ban should include exemptions in cases involving the health of the woman.

"This bill, H.B. 427 goes far beyond banning just one procedure late in pregnancy," Carnahan said. "According to our analysis and the medical experts we have consulted, it bans the safest and most common procedures as early as six weeks into pregnancy and it does so without exceptions for rape, incest and if the woman's life and health is at risk."

According to DeFeo, "What we are saying with H.B. 427 is once that child is in the position of having entered this world the point of its navel or the point of its head has the same lawful protections as the baby down in the nursery."

Despite Carnahan's concerns that the bill is unclear as to which procedures it applies to, DeFeo said the law is unambiguous.

"We are not attempting to regulate any legal abortion with one exception, and that is if the act that causes a death is performed prior to the child being partially born," DeFeo said. "If the killing act occurs prior to the child being two thirds out this bill doesn't apply to them at all."

Carnahan and DeFeo also focused on the potential for violence against people involved in abortion procedures.

"I don't want to be the first state in this country to allow violence against abortion doctors and clinics and I think that is were we are going," said Carnahan.

In a letter in defense of the bill, former Missouri Supreme Court Justice John Bardgett said "There is absolutely nothing in H.B. 427 that would provide any legal defense to someone who uses violence against anyone, including the doctors or patients." He wrote the violence issue is merely a "scare tactic" being used to persuade the legislature to uphold the veto.

Sen. Ted House, St. Charles-D, who voted for the original bill, said it was not the legislature's intent to promote violence with the law.

"This bill is designed to stop the violence that is committed against these helpless defenseless children," House said.

No solid solutions were reached at Wednesday's meeting. However, DeFeo said he did not think it was a waste of time. "We will continue to encourage legislators to do what they did in May-- overwhelmingly vote for the bill," DeFeo said. "It will be over September 15 and 16."