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Emboldened Missouri lawmakers pass abortion ‘trigger law’ bill and ‘fetal heartbeat’ ban

It's already hard to get an abortion in Missouri, as the state has only one clinic.

"Side angle shot of the capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri, USA"
"Side angle shot of the capitol building in Jefferson City, Missouri, USA"

Since Congress confirmed President Donald Trump’s second justice to the Supreme Court last October, state lawmakers have been emboldened to pass extreme anti-abortion laws. Their belief is that federal courts are more likely to uphold restrictions, and that an extreme enough measure could give Supreme Court justices the opportunity to reconsider the landmark abortion rights case, Roe v. Wade.

The latest example of this trend happened in Missouri this week, where lawmakers moved to effectively ban all abortions in the state.

On Wednesday, the male-majority Missouri House passed a slew of restrictions, in a 117-39 vote, including a so-called trigger ban that outlaws abortions except in cases of medical emergencies should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, without exceptions for rape or incest.

If the state senate passes the legislation, and Gov. Mike Parson (R) signs it into law, Missouri will join five other states with similar measures in place, including Arkansas, whose governor just signed his state’s trigger ban into law last week.

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Missouri state Rep. Nick Schroer (R), praised the bill, which he sponsored, as “the most sound, comprehensive pro-life bill in the entire U.S.,” according to the Associated Press.

The House also passed a restriction that outlaws most abortions once a provider can detect a fetal heartbeat. Providers refer to these bans as misnomers because while a fetus’ “heartbeat” can be detected around six weeks, the fetus hardly has fully developed organs yet and so it isn’t medically accurate to label it a heart.

What the Missouri bill actually does is ban abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, or prior to the viability of the fetus. Roe protects the right to pre-viability abortion, and the right to later abortions in narrow circumstances, so a “heartbeat” ban triggers a challenge to Supreme Court precedent.

It’s unclear whether or when these restrictions will actually become law, as the Senate, where Democrats will try to block the bill using a filibuster, still needs to approve them, but its passage is likely.

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Most, if not all, “heartbeat” bans have been blocked by the federal courts. Recently, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said her state wouldn’t appeal a district court’s decision to block the six-week ban she signed into law.

It’s already very challenging to get an abortion in many states, including Missouri. There’s only one clinic in the entire state that can provide abortions, due to a medically unnecessary law that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Admitting privilege laws in other states have previously been knocked down. The Supreme Court decided in 2016, for example, that Texas’ admitting privileges law was more burdensome than medically beneficial. But even so, appellate courts have upheld similar laws elsewhere, including Louisiana. A lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s admitting-privileges law is now before the Supreme Court, and if justices do not strike it down, there will likely only be one abortion provider clinic left in the state.