JEFFERSON CITY - With virtually no argument from abortion rights legislators, the House passed a measure to keep state funds from clinics that perform or promote abortions.
Under the eye of the anti-abortion lobby, the House voted 94-50 to accept a compromise with the Senate that would limit family planning funds set aside in the Health Department's budget.
House members discussed a letter circulated Wednesday morning by Missouri Right to Life threatened to give legislators poor marks if they didn't vote for the bill.
Some representatives said they were worried they would look bad if they voted against the Senate bill but supported the initiative to keep state funds from abortion clinics.
Rep. Gary Burton, R-Joplin, said that it didn't matter which version passed because "with either position we're going to be in court."
In anticipation of a legal showdown, the Senate draft includes three separate sections relating to family planning clinics. The first provision prohibits state funds from being allocated to "organizations which provide or promote abortions." The second provision resembles the first, but it goes into more detail about exactly which institutions can and can't get funds.
The third section is identical to an earlier House proposal. The House originally crafted a plan to create an $11 million network of state-owned clinics. Under state law, these proposed clinics could not perform abortions.
The bill is written so that the second provision becomes law only if a judge finds the first invalid. If the second section is also found invalid, the third would take effect.
Legislators have good reason to be afraid of a court battle; a judge found similar language unconstitutional in 1996 and 1997.
In each of the past two years, Planned Parenthood has sued the state because legislation prohibited the clinic from receiving state funds. A federal judge ruled that the state couldn't exclude a clinic from funding because it used private funds to perform and protect abortions.
Attorney General Jay Nixon refused to appeal the decision in 1997. Legislators criticized Nixon saying that he wasn't fulfilling his duty to defend the laws of the state.
Earlier this session Nixon sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Bill McKenna, D-Barnhart, saying the Attorney General's office would pay for private council to defend the funding bill.
Mark Ausmus, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, said he expects the case to end up in court again and the judge to rule at least the first two provisions unconstitutional.
Supporters in the House said they felt better representation would make the difference.
"This is literally the same language as last year," Burton said. "We didn't have our day in court."
The bill will now move to the Senate for debate.
Under a provision in the state Constitution, the Senate must pass all budget bills by 6 p.m. Friday. Last year conflict over this same issue forced the legislature into a special session. The Senate passed a similar version of this bill by a wide majority.