The Missouri state Senate approved a bill on May 16 prohibiting the abortion of pre-born children at eight weeks after conception.
State Senate Republicans approved the measure 24–10, only hours before the state legislature’s cutoff to pass bills. The state’s Republican-led House will have to approve the legislation before it is sent to the desk of Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
Parson expressed support for the bill on May 15. The state Senate vote came hours after Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill banning abortion at any stage during a pregnancy. The Alabama bill recognizes a human life beginning at conception, challenging the key holding of Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion.
With Parson’s signature, Missouri will become the sixth state to pass an abortion ban this year. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia enacted so-called “heartbeat bills,” which prohibit abortions after a pre-born child’s heartbeat can be detected, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy. The bills are part of a pro-life movement to challenge Roe v. Wade and two subsequent Supreme Court rulings. Only Alabama’s bill is specifically designed to challenge Roe v. Wade.
None of the bills passed this year would punish the mother. Only abortionists would face criminal charges. Missouri’s bill would punish doctors who abort pre-born children after eight weeks, with prison sentences from 5 to 15 years.
The Missouri bill includes exceptions for cases in which the life of the mother is in danger, but makes no exception cases in which a child was conceived as a result of rape or incest.
Pro-life advocates across the United States pursued new abortion bans hoping that new conservative majority on the Supreme Court could move to overturn Roe v. Wade. President Donald Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
If courts don’t allow Missouri’s proposed eight-week ban to take effect, it includes a ladder of less-restrictive time limits ranging from 14 to 20 weeks. Roe v. Wade legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
“This is not a piece of legislation that is designed for a challenge,” Missouri’s Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr said. “This is the type of legislation that is designed to withstand a challenge and to actually save lives in our state.”
The Missouri bill also bans abortions motivated by the child’s race or in cases in which a child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. The bill also requires the consent of both parents for a minor to obtain an abortion. Current law requires consent from only one parent.
Louisiana is the next state on track to pass a similar abortion ban. The state’s House Health and Welfare Committee approved a heartbeat bill on May 15. Louisiana’s Senate has already supported the bill, which was introduced by state Sen. John Milkovich. Once passed, the legislation would head to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has indicated that he will sign the bill.
“We believe children are a gift from God,” said Milkovich, a Democrat from Keithville. He said his proposal provides that “once a heartbeat is detected, the baby can’t be killed.”
Parson said on May 15 that advancements in science and technology have enabled doctors to detect heartbeats and movements in pre-born children earlier than what was possible when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade.
“Thanks to decades of conservative, pro-life leadership, Missouri recently hit an all-time low for the number of abortions. We’ve gone from a high of more than 20,000 in our state to now below 3,000, which is still too many,” Parson said during a press conference on May 15.
At the federal level, lawmakers are split on abortion along party lines, with few exceptions. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would require doctors to care for children who survive abortion in the same way they would for babies born naturally. Republicans introduced the bill following national outrage over Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s comments defending infanticide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.