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Mo. House, Senate Hold Hearings on State Abortion Legislation

January 13, 2016 — On Tuesday, the Missouri Senate and House held hearings, respectively, on a proposed antiabortion-rights bill and state oversight of abortion clinics, KOMU 8 reports (Gmelich, KOMU 8, 1/12).

Background

State lawmakers have pre-filed several antiabortion-rights bills in the state House and Senate. One bill (SB 644), proposed by state Sen. Bob Onder (R), would ban fetal tissue donation -- which does not occur within the state -- and alter language governing how pathologists report on fetal tissue (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/21/15).

Specifically, the measure would require that all fetal tissue resulting from an abortion be submitted to a pathology lab for examination. Currently, state law requires abortion providers to send a "representative sample of tissue" to a pathology lab, which examines the sample and then submits a report to the clinic and to the state. However, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state lawmakers learned last summer via investigations into abortion care that the state had not received reports from the pathology lab for each abortion for an indeterminate amount of time (Stuckey, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12).

Onder's bill also would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services to cross-check Planned Parenthood reports on abortion care with corresponding tissue reports that the organization submits to the pathology lab. DHSS would have to submit the findings of its review to the state Legislature (Ballentine, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/12). The measure also would require that the pathology report confirm that the fetal tissue was disposed of correctly (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12).

Another provision in the bill would require unannounced annual inspections of facilities where abortions are performed. Further, the bill would require physicians who perform abortions to have surgical and admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The language would replace the "more vague clinical privileges" requirement and appears to target a Planned Parenthood in Columbia. It would also make it more difficult for ambulatory surgery centers to apply for or renew licenses at facilities that do not meet every requirement (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/21/15).

Details of Senate Hearing

The state Senate Seniors, Families and Children committee on Tuesday heard testimony regarding Onder's bill. According to the AP/Bee, the bill requires committee approval before moving to the full state Senate.

David Eisenberg, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said, "While I understand the desire for this body to improve and promote the health and well-being of our Missouri citizens, I'm concerned that we are not doing that with this bill." Eisenberg said the state instead should boost access to Medicaid, sexual education and family planning resources (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/12).

Eisenberg also said requiring all fetal tissue be sent to a pathologist for inspection and disposal could in some cases prevent tissue samples from being turned over to law enforcement in cases of rape or submitted for genetic testing in instances of fetal anomalies. Onder said he would consider amendments to create exceptions in such situations (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12).

Separately, M'Evie Mead, state director of organizing at Planned Parenthood, called the bill's admitting privileges requirement an unnecessary restriction "designed to make it more difficult for our doctors."

Details of House Hearing

Also on Tuesday, the Missouri House Children and Families Committee convened to discuss oversight of abortion clinics in the state, as well as a measure that would ban the donation of fetal tissue.

According to the AP/Bee, officials with Planned Parenthood have said the organization does not participate in fetal tissue donation in the state. Further, an investigation conducted by state Attorney General Chris Koster (D) did not find that Planned Parenthood had committed any wrongdoing.

However, several conservative lawmakers on the committee during Tuesday's meeting said the state should increase oversight of abortion clinics. According to the AP/Bee, state Rep. Diane Franklin (R) intends to propose a bill that would ban fetal tissue donation in the state. In addition, the measure, like Onder's bill, would require DHSS to cross-check Planned Parenthood's reports against the reports the organization submits to the pathology lab (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/12).

During the hearing, acting DHSS Director Peter Lyskowski discussed how Planned Parenthood's clinic in Columbia, Mo., still is prohibited from offering abortion care because the clinic's physician does not have admitting privileges at a hospital in the vicinity (KOMU 8, 1/12). He also noted that the department is working to resolve the fetal tissue reporting concerns identified during the investigations last year (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12).

Meanwhile, Mead said, "I think it's unfortunate that they're treading over information that has been resolved, and I think that the ultimate goal is to eliminate access to abortion in Missouri" (KOMU 8, 1/12).