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Anti-Abortion Filibuster in House

State Capital Bureau

April 14, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ A classic filibuster over abortion shut down the Missouri House for most of this past week (the week of April 11).

But it was in a chamber where filibusters are not supposed to happen _ the House of Representatives.

Representatives hummed satirically as their colleague recited Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or Give me death" speech.

Abortion opponents are staging the filibuster in an effort to force the leadership to allow House action on an anti-abortion bill passed by the Senate.

Abortion opponents show no signs of backing down from their filibuster when the House adjourned for the weekend Thursday (April 13), although they did allow action on a three budget bills.

"There is no question this is becoming a one-issue session," said Rep. Bill Luetkenhaus, D-Wentzville, who helped stall the legislature.

In fact, abortion has become such an all-encompassing issue that House Speaker Bob Griffin said the sole thing he is concerned about passing is the budget, indicating that little else might get done.

The legislative session still has four weeks to go and during this time the House usually considers the more controversial issues.

The bill that spurred the filibuster would require women to prove they have been offered counseling on their options before having an abortion.

Opponents of the bill say they fear these counselors would have an agenda and that it is insulting to women to make them get this "permission slip."

The bill was approved by the Senate earlier this month. When it got to the House, it was assigned by Griffin to the House Judiciary Committee whose chairman, Gary Witt, has suggested he might not even hold a vote on the bill.

The first opportunity for any sort of compromise will arise Tuesday, when the Judiciary Committee has scheduled a meeting on the abortion bill.

Top legislative leaders _ the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tem _ as well as the governor, support abortion rights.

However, abortion opponents have demonstrated they have a clear majority in both chambers.

And with a majority in the House, the leadership cannot get the votes to shut off the filibuster.

It's the ideal setting for grid lock.

The leadership can stop the anti-abortion bill from being considered, as Griffin has done.

But the membership can halt action on everything, as representatives are now doing.

If neither side is bluffing and if neither side blinks by the May 12 adjournment, the session could be effectively shut down on this one issue.

Assistant Majority Leader Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, attacked the leaders of the filibuster for holding up passage of other important legislation.

But Rep. David Reynolds, D-St. Louis County, said the abortion issue was just as important to the state as other bills.

"We've been accused of playing games, not taking this job seriously and trying to destroy the Democratic party," Reynolds said. "All of you have some item that you feel is very important. If we don't respect life, we don't respect anything."

Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, an abortion-rights supporter, said the abortion-restriction bill should be debated on the floor. But he questioned the tactics.

"I think the strategy that they are using is wholly inappropriate," Jacob said. "There are lots of important issues that we have to deal with and whether that bill passes or not is not going to make a whole lot of difference. Their issue isn't going to be solved by this bill. That issue rests with the Supreme Court primarily. If we want to change that, get a new president, wait until the other ones die."

The anti-abortionists said the filibuster was their last resort. They said they met with Griffin before the filibuster and he had refused to compromise.

"The object is not to kill bills," said Rep. Pat O'Connor, D-St. Louis County. "When a compromise is reached, we will proceed."

But Jacob urged the filibuster leaders to consider the impact of their actions.

"I'd like to ask that when we have a bill before us that we don't let the issue of abortion decide whether or not we pass these bills," Jacob said. "I'm not trying to use my extreme feelings about an issue to stop what we have all been elected to do here."