JEFFERSON CITY - Throwing accusations and angry tones across the Senate floor, a three hour debate Monday resulted in the preliminary passage of legislation outlawing doctors from performing "partial birth" abortions.
In what some Senators feared as a possible filibuster, Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, took the lead role in opposition to Senate Bill 275. The legislation states that a doctor is guilty of murder if he or she aborts a live fetus by using a procedure that takes place after the mother has begun the birthing process.
"In the third trimester, it is my opinion that the state has the right to protect a fetus," Jacob said. "The exception is the health of the mother. When a doctor uses the procedure, something horrible has gone wrong."
He then passed out graphic pictures of six fetuses that had massive body and brain defects. Essentially, their bodies were mutilated inside the women's womb.
Jacob used these photographs to illustrate his point that occasionally a fetus and even the mother's health is often in such danger that second and third trimester abortions are necessary.
However, backers of the bill said there are ways to abort a pregnancy other than using the partial birth procedure.
While Jacob did not ultimately filibuster the bill, he interrogated several of the bill's main sponsors in a debate resulting in emotional accusations that both sides were misrepresenting and falsifying facts. Noisy accusations of that nature have not been unusual since President Clinton vetoed the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act. The act would have banned partial birth abortions at the federal level.
"Once the birthing process starts, are we going to say it's OK to kill the child?" asked John Schneider, D-Florissant, one of 18 sponsors of the legislation. "It's wrong to deliberately kill a kid even if he has a defect. The only purpose of this procedure is to make sure a dead fetus is born instead of a living one."
The debate was often bogged down on repetitive discussions about the significance of legal precedence and language semantics. Though the bill is broadly defined to include any partial birth abortions, its language does not outlaw any specific medical procedure. What the bill was prohibiting in actuality was a major point of contention.
"This bill outlaws D&X (Dilatation and Extraction). (The sponsor) says there are no reasons to use D&X," Jacob told the Senate. "If you stand there and say there are no real life cases where D&X could be necessary, I resent that."
Dilatation and Extraction (D&X) is a particular procedure that has taken the spotlight in public debate and Congressional inquiries as to its use. Now the Missouri legislature finds itself hashing out similar questions. Supporters and critics of the procedure have yet to nail down how frequently doctors actually perform partial birth abortions, and whether the procedure is generally used only in cases of danger to the mother's health.
Jacob tried to change the bill to preserve partial birth abortions in cases of possible long term physical injury to the mother. This went further than the original bill which allows the procedure only to preserve the life of the mother.
"Our position is it is immoral to kill this living being while it's being born," Schneider said. Calling the bill's position a political extreme, Jacob quickly retorted in saying "I think it's immoral for you to decide what the health of a women is when a child is born...and you don't care when she will have surgery, you don't care about that."
During testimony given in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last month doctors defined the D&X procedure.
Fetal-medicine specialist Curtis Cook told the Congressional committee that during the D&X procedure the living fetus is delivered feet first before a doctor punctures the base of a baby's skull and "sucks out the brain contents," collapsing the skull, killing the baby and then finishing the delivery. This type of abortion is usually performed in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy, when major physical defects are generally detected.