JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Republican lawmakers Wednesday brainstormed potential changes to state abortion laws, including ramping up oversight and an idea to require memorials for aborted fetuses.
Proposals to revamp current policy capped off more than three hours of questioning by House committee members, who pressed health officials and others about abortion practices.
The hearing was the latest of several aimed at investigating Planned Parenthood. Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster and both the state House and Senate launched reviews of abortion clinics this summer after the release of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue.
Koster last month said he found no evidence that a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic – the only site in the state licensed to perform surgical abortions – sells fetal tissue. Koster’s finding back up repeated assertions from the clinic that it doesn’t participate in a program to donate fetal remains; the tissue is instead incinerated.
A joint statement Wednesday from two Missouri Planned Parenthood directors described the legislative committees’ investigations “political attacks.”
Leaders of the GOP House committee say they’re not satisfied.
James Miller, owner of the suburban St. Louis Pathology Services Inc. that reviews tissue from Planned Parenthood, told lawmakers during the Wednesday hearing that the lab for a time had not been submitting reports on abortions to the state health department as required in Missouri. Miller said employees at the pathology lab mistakenly believed Planned Parenthood was forwarding those reports to the state and sent the back paperwork to the Department of Health and Senior Services after realizing the error.
Rep. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican and one of the committee leaders, said “there’s no question there’s holes” in current law.
Lawmakers last year enacted one of the nation’s most stringent abortion waiting period, requiring women to wait 72 hours after consulting with a doctor before ending a pregnancy.
Abortion likely will take center stage again during the next legislative session beginning in January, which will come on the heels of Republican outcry over the undercover Planned Parenthood videos and as several GOP Republican lawmakers are running for statewide office.
The Center for Medical Progress, a small group of abortion foes who secretly recorded the conversations, says the videos show Planned Parenthood has broken the law by profiting from the tissue sales.
Planned Parenthood says it did nothing illegal and only accepted payments covering the costs of retrieving the tissue, which it provides to medical researchers. The group announced Tuesday that it would no longer charge anything for the tissue.
Koenig said the abortion process in Missouri should be more thoroughly tracked, starting with the clinic providing the procedure and ending with incinerators where remains are destroyed.
Republican Rep. Rick Brattin, of Harrisonville, floated an idea of “maybe requiring that Planned Parenthood set up some type of memorial, like a Vietnam-Wall type.”
“I know that sounds crazy,” Brattin said to committee members, “but by state law they’re given human status. So should there be a human memorial?”
Koenig told reporters after the meeting that’s “lesser of a concern” for him.
Other suggestions included regular legislative meetings to ensure state laws are followed and a ban on a second-trimester abortion procedure called “dilation and evacuation” that opponents refer to as “dismemberment abortion.” Kansas and Oklahoma have both passed bans on the procedure, but courts have put those laws on hold. Democratic Rep. Stacey Newman, of St. Louis, questioned the need for some of the proposals.
The committee next will prepare a report with final policy recommendations for next session.
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