JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's law banning abortion of a viable fetus would be expanded under a measure presented to the House Health Care Policy Committee Wednesday.
The bill would expand the definition of viability so a woman pregnant with a viable child cannot have an abortion except in the case of a medical emergency. Under the bill, a child is considered viable when there is "a reasonable likelihood the life of the unborn child can be sustained outside the mother's womb with or without artificial support."
Current law defines viability as "when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or aritifical life-supportive systems.
"We already have the framework for such a ban currently in our statutes," said the bill's sponsor, House Republican Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, referring to the current state law that restricts abortion of a viable fetus.
"The problem that I have seen though is simply that it does not have truly any teeth in it," Jones said. "It tends to be a bit vague and ambiguous in its interpretation. So, although, one could argue that we already do have a later term abortion ban in this state, it is not one that is truly effective."
Current law allows abortion of a viable fetus only to preserve the life or health of the mother. The bill would change the definition of medical emergencies to be more restrictive and require a second physician, who is unrelated to the patient or first doctor, to also approve of the medical emergency and be present for the procedure.
Jones said the "nuts and bolts" of the bill come down to "if there is no medical emergency as defined, then 20 weeks plus viability no abortion shall be permitted," Jones said.
A lobbyist for one of Missouri's major anti-abortion organizations, Campaign Life Missouri, called this portion of the bill a "safeguard" for women. The lobbyist, Samuel Lee, said it would help women who are being encouraged or led to believe that abortion is their only option. He also said it "frees up the first physician to care for the woman, and the second to care for the child."
The executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri, Pamela Sumners, called the bill unconstitutional and said it would affect only a small number of abortions in the state.
"Less than 1 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks [of pregnancy]," she said.
She cited a Supreme Court case that said there should be "meaningful life outside the womb."
Sumners said because Missouri is the "third most regulated state" for abortions, there would be more illegal late-term abortions done by physicians "who shouldn't be practicing medicine."The Health Care Policy Committee chair said the committee would vote on the bill as early as next week.