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No Compromise Seen For Partial-Birth Abortion In Veto Session

August 29, 1997
By: ANN S. KIM
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The two sides of Missouri's abortion debate seem headed toward another showdown as the state legislature's veto session approaches Sept. 10.

Neither the proponents nor the opponents of the so-called partial-birth abortion bill are willing to budge on a provision allowing the procedure in instances where the mother's health is at risk.

Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said he will undoubtedly try to override Gov. Mel Carnahan's veto of his bill. Kinder said he is not overly confident about the veto session, noting that if his bid is successful, it would be only the seventh time Missouri's legislature has overridden a governor's veto.

Carnahan vetoed the bill in July, attacking the proposal for not allowing the procedure if necessary to preserve the woman's health.

The bill vetoed by the governor would allow the procedure only when the mother's life is endangered.

Besides, Carnahan said, the procedure already is illegal under current Missouri law. His office says it has made overtures to the supporters of the bill and would be willing to include a revised version of the measure in the upcoming special session - but only if the proposal includes the health exemption.

"The governor has even said he would include a partial-birth abortion bill in a call for a special session," Chris Sifford, Carnahan's director of communications, said. "We haven't (included it) because there hasn't been any interest (from the bill's sponsors) in doing a special session on partial-birth abortions. But we'd be willing to do that."

Supporters of the ban say that a health provision would allow the procedure to be performed too broadly. They say such a health provision would allow women to justify the procedure under any circumstance, including psychological reasons such as feeling bad about how they look in a bathing suit.

Kinder says that he'd rather fail at his override attempt and submit the bill again in the next session than compromise on the issue.

"I'd rather lose than insert an exception that would render it a nullity," Kinder said.

Critics of the bill say that a ban without a health provision is unconstitutional, violating the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.

Witnesses at public hearings last spring testified that the procedure involves puncturing the skull of the fetus and vacuuming out the contents while most of the body remains in the birth canal.

The bill covers a method of abortion referred to in medical literature as "dilation and extraction," but the bill's critics say the term "partial-birth abortion" could also include any procedure in which any part of the fetus' body is in the birth canal.

Because abortion figures in Missouri are categorized by gestation period rather than by the method used, there is no information on how many - if any - of these abortions are performed in the state.

The bill, which would ban make the procedure a second-degree murder, passed with far more than the two-thirds majority vote that will be necessary for a veto override. The bill passed 28-3 in the Senate and 127-26 in the House (the roll-call votes are available for review at http://www.mdn.org). A veto override requires 23 votes in the Senate and 108 in the House.

Although the bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in May, some Democrats who voted for the bill are expected to sustain the Democratic governor's veto.

Both sides say they are working hard for votes in the veto session. Neither side will say how many votes they can count on.

"I know of none that I've lost," Kinder said. "But never underestimate the other side."

Sifford said he has had some success in gaining support to sustain Carnahan's veto.

"We've had discussions with a lot of legislators about the veto session and potential overrides. There is a growing number of legislators who agree that this bill is flawed," Sifford said. "They've had more opportunities to look at the bill and review the language."

Sifford would not say which legislators have committed to vote with the governor.