Mo. Gov. Allows Abortion Restrictions To Become Law Without His Signature

July 15, 2011 — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on Thursday announced he would allow the enactment of a bill (SB 65) that would prohibit abortion after viability and add restrictions and penalties for physicians who provide abortion services later in pregnancy, the AP/Washington Post reports. Nixon declined to sign the bill, allowing the measure to take effect without his signature. The legislation passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan two-thirds majorities, giving lawmakers enough votes to override a veto (AP/Washington Post, 7/14).

Current state law already bans abortion after viability and includes an exception if the woman's health or life is threatened. The new law eliminates the general health exception and imposes a more narrow exception for health so that the only exceptions allowing for abortion after viability are procedures needed to save a woman's life or when the pregnancy poses a serious risk of permanent physical harm to a major bodily function. The law requires a provider to determine the gestational age of the fetus before proceeding and, if the fetus is 20 weeks or more, the provider must determine that it is not viable. Physicians could face fines or prison sentences for violating the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/16). Hospitals, surgical centers and physicians offering abortion care after the fetus has been deemed viable could lose their state licenses. In addition, current state law already requires a second physician to be present for abortions of viable fetuses, but the new law will require that the second physician concur that the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the woman or prevent permanent harm to a bodily function.

Nixon cited a section of the state constitution that allows a bill to become law if it is not signed or vetoed by the governor within 45 days after the Legislature adjourns. "This legislation was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both houses," Nixon said, adding that abortion "is a public policy obviously that's talked about in Missouri tremendously, and I've tried to -- you know -- make sure that we are sensitive to all sides of the issue."

This is the second year that Nixon has allowed abortion restrictions to become law without his signature. According to the AP/Post, Nixon is attempting to walk a "political tightrope" by neither supporting nor opposing the measures.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, said the new law "is an effort to restrict abortion as much as possible, and one way we are seeing this play out is by narrowing these health exceptions." NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri Executive Director Pamela Sumners said that under the new law, "Missouri's emergency exception is one of the narrowest in the country -- it's basically your kidneys are going to fail or you're going to die."

According to the AP/Post, the law will take effect Aug. 28 (AP/Washington Post, 7/14).