The Missouri General Assembly passed 94 separate pieces of legislation during the 2019 session. In all likelihood, our four-month legislative session will be remembered primarily for just one of those bills, House Bill 126.
Otherwise known as the heartbeat bill, HB 126 prohibits abortions after eight weeks of prenatal development – approximately the point when a baby’s heartbeat can be detected in the womb.
Widely characterized as one of the strongest pro-life laws in America, I believe the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” is clearly the most vigorous defense of human life ever expressed by the Missouri Legislature since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.The measure was approved on a strictly partisan vote in the Senate and ultimately sent to the governor for his signature.
There never was much doubt that the comprehensive pro-life legislation would be approved. Overwhelming majorities of lawmakers in both the House and Senate oppose abortion, as do many Missouri citizens. Clearly, the numbers were there for the bill to pass. The question was how the final vote would play out, especially in the Missouri Senate.
HB 126 came before the Senate mid-week, raising serious concerns that a contentious fight would poison the remainder of the session. The assumption was that a divisive parliamentary motion would be necessary to force a final-hour vote in the Senate. It did not happen that way, however. After four hours of in-chamber discussion and an unprecedented nearly 12 hours of behind-the-scenes negotiation, the bill finally came to a vote at 3 a.m. and was passed, without resorting to a call for “the previous question.”
Opponents of the measure were not happy, but supporters believed they had fulfilled a solemn duty to protect innocent life. The compromise that allowed the bill’s passage cleared the way for two more days of productive lawmaking, with the tally of legislation crossing the finish line nearly doubling in just a few hours.
House Bill 126 stands as a thorough repudiation of abortion. Chock full of statistics and references to legal precedent and scientific research regarding life, the legislation contains persuasive justification for its passage. The bill is structured as a series of protections for unborn children. One provision bans abortion after eight weeks of a child’s development, while additional provisions outlaw the killing of an unborn child at 14 and 18 weeks. The “Late-Term Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” portion bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
Selective abortions based on race or gender, and those prompted by a Down syndrome diagnosis are also prohibited. Protection of the health of the mother is an affirmative defense for abortion but terminating pregnancies resulting from rape or incest is not permitted past the bill’s gestational thresholds. If any portion of the bill is overturned by a court, the remaining provisions continue to apply. In the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the “Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act” would take effect and abortion would be outlawed in Missouri entirely.
The detractors who excoriated Missouri and this legislation on national television were correct about one thing. This is an extremely strong bill. The Missouri Legislature has a constitutional responsibility to protect the lives of all Missourians. Not passing this law would have been an abrogation of our obligations.
In the 46 years since Roe, there have been many advances in our understanding of life and how it develops. Knowing what we know now, how can a mother choose the dismembering of her baby in the womb or submit to suction that will turn a tiny body into a bloody liquid? How did we devolve to the arrogance of thinking that we have the right to determine who lives and who dies?
Among the best resources for disseminating current information about life, and for helping expectant mothers make the right choices about their babies, are the various pregnancy resource centers located throughout the state. When a mother-to-be doesn’t know where to turn, these centers can help. They teach young women how important children are, and they provide the information necessary for wise, informed choices.
House Bill 126 increases tax incentives to support these pregnancy resource centers that provide life-affirming options to expectant mothers. These facilities do a tremendous job saving lives and building families. They teach young women how to be mothers and, when possible, they show young men how to be fathers. A few of these centers even provide residential services for expectant mothers. Even people who champion abortion should embrace the additional support included in the legislation for these facilities.
Abortion is a highly controversial topic, and emotions run strong on all sides of the issue. Some Missourians will disagree with the legislations we have enacted, but the passage of HB 126 was an act born out of conscience and the heartfelt belief that abortion ends an innocent human life. This was truly a life or death decision for Missouri lawmakers. As we considered the weighty and monumental questions before us on this issue, we chose life.