Missouri lawmakers discuss banning sex-selection abortions
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Missouri lawmakers discuss banning sex-selection abortions

Date: March 6, 2013
By: Josie Butler
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 457, HB 386

JEFFERSON CITY - A state representative and a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood debated the true meaning of a bill that would ban certain types of abortions Wednesday.

While the bill's sponsor, Rep. John McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, said his bill would only prevent doctors from encouraging sex-selection abortions, the lobbyist, Michelle Trupiano, said those abortions would be completely prohibited.

Trupiano testified in opposition to McCaherty's bill, which would ban abortions performed for sex-selection or because of a genetic abnormality. Trupiano became emotional while testifying to the House Health Care Policy committee, reciting the story of a woman who decided to have an abortion after discovering severe complications with her unborn child. Trupiano said the decision was "heartbreaking" and "heart-wrenching," but it was a decision she had to make in order to do "what she thought was right".

"This is happening every day and these are the real women that you are affecting," Trupiano said. "These are the decisions that you are taking away from them, and this just isn't right. It isn't right that women who are facing enormous obstacles that you are trying to say 'we know what's right for you' and 'we know what's right for your family.'"

McCaherty said his bill would not affect a woman's right to choose or stop her from having an abortion. However, he said it would prevent the doctors from "selling" abortions because of sex-selection or genetic abnormalities.

"Planned Parenthood, for instance, this (sex-selection abortions) is another menu option for them," McCaherty said. "You can go in and this is just one of many reasons that you could possibly desire an abortion. I believe that somebody has to stand up and say that, you know what, it doesn't matter what you look like. It doesn't matter if you have one arm or two arms, if you have brown eyes or blue eyes, if you have red hair or brown hair or if you're male or female. I think that a life is a life is a life."

Trupiano said that despite McCaherty's description of the bill, the bill's language states that it would ban abortions because of sex-selection or genetic abnormalities. She said it has nothing to do with banning the doctor from "selling" abortions. She said that the language of the bill would make it illegal to have an abortion if those were the woman's reasons.

The bill states: "No person shall intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion with the knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely on account of the sex of the child."

It also states: "No person shall intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion with the knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the unborn child has been diagnosed with either a genetic abnormality or a potential for a genetic abnormality."

No further action was taken on the bill.

Conscience rights of health care providers

The committee also heard a bill sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones regarding the conscience protection rights for anyone providing medical services. Jones, R-St. Louis County, said that this bill was unfinished business from last year and he decided to carry it again, despite his duties as speaker. He said because it made it so far last year he felt could be sent to the governor this year with a little extra work. Last year, the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

"This bill did receive overwhelming bipartisan support in the House," Jones said. "The bill has great interest and great support in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle."

The bill would protect anyone providing medical services from performing in activities that would violate his or her conscience. Jones said his bill is improved from last years because it adds a a definition section.

The bill defines "conscience" as "the religious, moral, or ethical principles held by a medical professional or a health care institution."

The bill goes on to state that "a medical professional's conscience means a sincere and meaningful belief in God or in relation to a supreme being, or a belief which, though not so derived, occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God among adherents to religious faiths. A health care institution's conscience shall be determined by reference to its existing or proposed religious, moral, or ethical guidelines, mission statement, constitution, bylaws, articles of incorporation, regulations, or other relevant documents."

Jones' bill would prevent discrimination against any medical professional or health care institution that declines to participate in specified medical procedures or research that violates his or her conscience. However, an employee wishing to assert this right must give reasonable notice of his or her intent not to participate.

Under the bill, health care providers would be able to opt-out of participating in abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization which is not medically necessary, assisted reproduction, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research, and nontherapeutic fetal experimentation.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, testified in favor of the bill. He said the bill is not designed to stop any of the procedures from happening, but to assure that individuals can opt-out of performing the procedures if it violates his or her religious beliefs.

"I think we all realize that individuals who choose to go into medical profession generally do so because they have a real interest in sustaining, nurturing and fostering human life," he said. "They take seriously the credo to 'do no harm' and unfortunately, there are certain circumstances, which this bill is designed to address, where they are asked to potentially do harm to human life, to go against the values and convictions and religious beliefs that they hold, and in effect, forced to choose between their career and their conscience, a moral quandary they should not be in."

Daniel Landon, senior vice president of governmental relations for the Missouri Hospital Association, spoke in opposition to the bill. Landon said, in the MHA's point of view, Jones has made a significant number of improvements to the bill. However, he said there are still some issues the MHA has with the bill, specifically dealing with the definition of conscience. 

"It remains unclear how a hospital human resources department would know whether that applies to their employees without delving into an employee's private religious life in ways that I think many of us will be uncomfortable with," he said.

Landon also said it is an improvement to include the reasonable notice requirement, but further definition of reasonable notice would be necessary.

Trupiano also testified in opposition to this bill. She said the main concern for Planned Parenthood is their belief that women should always have the care that they need. In the instance of rape victims, who went to an emergency room, she said they deserve access to all information about what could happen to them, including an unintended pregnancy. She said if this bill were to come into effect, it would allow health care providers to deny that information and deny access to emergency contraception. She also said this bill would not protect the conscience of every health care provider.

"While this bill protects the conscience of providers who don't want to provide care, it doesn't protect the conscience of providers that know what the right care is and are being denied by their institution to provide that care," she said. "So it is only protecting consciences in one way."

The committee voted on the bill and it was passed out of committee by a 5-3 vote.