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Special Session on Abortion Discussed

September 13, 1999
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 427

JEFFERSON CITY - Following a long tradition of backroom politics, top lawmakers, along with Gov. Mel Carnahan, spent part of Monday huddled at a country club outside Jefferson City discussing the possiblity of a special session of the legislature to take up the issue of partial-birth abortion.

The discussions at the state capital and Meadow Lakes Country Club come as the democratic governor faces a potential override of his veto of the partial-birth abortion measure. It passed last spring by margins well beyond the vote that would be required f or an override.

Both the governor's staff and the House Speaker confirm the discussions, although both stress that no final decision has been made.

Suggestions of a compromise plan met with firm resistance from the bill's sponsor, a fellow Democrat.

Gov. Carnahan is "on the wrong side of this issue and is concerned about his election next year," said Rep. Bill Luetkenhaus, D-Josephville, sponsor of the Infant Protection Act.

The governor is "going against the will of the people of Missouri and wasting their tax money" and fears that he will be portrayed as the "pro-abortion candidate" in next year's Senate race.

Carnahan "has been working to prevent a vote on the override of HB 427," Luetkenhaus said.

"The governor has had some discussions with legislative leaders today and there was discussion of a special session," said Jerry Nachtigal, Carnahan's spokesman. Nachtigal cautioned, however, that discussions were still preliminary and that Carnahan has n ot committed to such a plan of action.

House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, said that he doesn't known how things will turn out, but a special session is the governor's decision.

"I think that question can't be answered today," Gaw said. "It might become clear Wednesday. There are certainly some people who are looking for the opportunity to ban what is known as partial-birth abortion in a bill that is constitutional."

Under the plan recounted by Gaw, the governor would wait for the legislature to uphold his veto and then call a special session.

"The governor supports a ban on partial birth abortion," said Chris Sifford, the governor's chief of staff. "If we are going to pass a bill, we should make sure it is constitutional."

The governor wants lawmakers to craft a partial-birth abortion ban that includes an exemption for procedures performed to protect the life of the mother or as a result of rape or incest, Sifford said.

Both the governor and his staff concede they do not know if they have changed enough votes to sustain the veto. Luetkenhaus fears that Carnahan loyalists will move the House to adjourn before the override vote.

Since the state constitution limits the override session to 10 days, and the Senate must also consider the override within this span, another possibility is that debate would be limited to day nine of the 10-day session, said Luetkenhaus.

"The governor, at this point, is proceeding with plans for the veto session to come and go as planned," said Nachtigal.

The governor's office is unsure of how Wednesday's vote will turn out, but expects some legislators to switch positions and vote with the governor.

"There's obviously some folks who have been friends and we hope that they will stay with us on this one," Nachtigal said.