JEFFERSON CITY - Don't be mislead by the lull in Missouri's abortion war. The latest battle is about to begin. Though quiet during these first weeks of the legislative session, abortion opponents have been building up their strength since last year's defeat.
Exactly half the Senate - 17 members - have co-sponsored an abortion-regulation bill similar to the bill Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed last year.
Like last year's proposal, this year's bill would restrict abortion facilities and place additional requirements on doctors who perform the procedure.
The House was unable to override Carnahan's veto later last year.
Although 41 Democrats originally voted in support of the bill, only 23 were willing to vote for the override in a year in which a Democratic governor was up for re-election.
This year's Senate bill is sponsored by a group of eleven Republicans and six Democrats.
The bill would place additional requirements on facilities in which abortions are performed, including making them subject to inspection by the Missouri Health Department.
Under current law, only clinics for which abortions constitute more than 50 percent of their business must be licensed by the Health Department.
Patty Brous, president of Planned Parenthood of Mid-Missouri and Eastern Kansas, objected to extra Health Department regulations.
"Would these rules and regulations be necessary for patient care or would they try to make access more difficult for women?" she asked.
Brous said that while the Health Department currently is not hostile toward abortions, it could be under a different administration.
Planned Parenthood clinics are inspected and accredited by national Planned Parenthood representatives every four years, Brous said.
"Planned Parenthood regulations are often fairly conservative compared to others in the medical community," Brous said.
The proposed bill also would impose additional requirements on doctors. Doctors would have to stay in the facility until the patient was discharged. They would have to carry $500,000 worth of malpractice insurance. Doctors would have to have obstetrical or gynecological clinical privileges at a hospital in Missouri.
"We certainly are in favor of anything that would make abortions safe for women," said Patty Skain, executive director of Missouri Right to Life. "I think that is the intent of that bill."
But M'Evie Mead, executive director of the Missouri affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, has a different view.
"Frankly, I don't buy the safety arguments," Mead said. "I don't think this is what this bill is about." She term the bill another "attempt by anti-choice forces in the legislature in their step-by-step restriction strategy," Mead said. "What this bill is really intended to do is put clinics out of business and to harass physicians."
The measure also would require that a computerized database and a toll-free number with information on abortion alternative services be set up by the Health Department.
Last year, Carnahan signed a state budget which gave the Health Department $900,000 to provide information on abortion alternatives.
For the past two years, anti-abortion lawmakers have won legislative approval of abortion restrictions - only to see their proposals vetoed by the governor.