The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 30, 2010

Missouri: Bill would tell prosecutors of teen abortions

The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Abortion clinics would be required to tell prosecutors about teenagers seeking abortions under legislation passed Tuesday by the Missouri House that supporters hope could provide leads on potential rapists.

The legislation also would create a new crime of coercing a woman to have an abortion and expand the information that a physician must provide to a woman at least 24 hours before performing an abortion.

The bill passed the House 113-27, prompting extended applause — and a few tears of joy — from hundreds of abortion rights opponents who were rallying at the Capitol. It now moves to the Senate, where debate has stalled on separate abortion legislation this year.

Missouri’s proposed mandate to inform prosecutors about minors seeking abortions could be a first nationally if it became law, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive-rights issues.

Missouri law already requires the consent of the minor and a parent, guardian or judge before a physician performs an abortion on someone younger than 18. It also requires abortion providers to report evidence of rape or abuse to the state.

The legislation would go further by requiring a physician or abortion clinic to notify prosecutors when someone younger than 18 inquires about getting an abortion — even if she does not go through with it. Notification would have to occur at least a day before an abortion. The only exception to prosecutorial notification would be for court-approved cases.

Sponsoring Rep. Bryan Pratt, a Republican attorney from Blue Springs, said his intent is to provide tips to prosecutors of potential cases of forcible rape, incest or statutory rape. Sometimes, the perpetrator may accompany the teen to an abortion clinic, intimidating her from telling doctors or nurses the truth about how she became pregnant, he said.

“We’re going to shine the light on those who would rape children,” said Pratt, the House speaker pro tem.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, called the legislation “a mean-spirited effort to intimidate and bully.”

“We might as well say, ‘Let’s hang these women up by their heels for an hour before this procedure begins,”’ Still said.

Missouri Right to Life lobbyist Susan Klein said the provision was prompted by charges filed last year against several members of a western Missouri family accused of raping and molesting young relatives over a decade, beginning in the mid-1980s. Among the accusations is that an 11-year-old became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion.

Had a requirement to notify prosecutors been in place, authorities could have been tipped off to the case earlier and charges could have been brought before others allegedly were abused, Klein said.

The new proposal could backfire by making minors reluctant to talk to physicians about abortions because of a fear of involving law enforcement officers, said Elizabeth Nash, a Washington-based policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute.

The legislation also would require abortion providers to keep tissue samples of fetuses from clients younger than 18 for potential DNA identification.

Two states have similar laws. Kansas requires tissue samples of aborted fetuses from minors younger than 14 to be supplied to state investigators. Tennessee requires fetus tissues to be collected from minors younger than 13 and turned over to law enforcement.

The Missouri bill also would create a specific crime of coercing a woman to obtain an abortion through such acts as assault, stalking, threatening her employment or withholding an academic scholarship.

The legislation would expand an existing law that women be informed 24 hours before an abortion of the physical and psychological health risks from the procedure. It would mandate they be told about the characteristics of their fetuses and offered a chance to view an ultrasound and listen to a heart beat.

The bill also would require that women be provided the following statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”