Fetal-tissue donation would be banned in Missouri and the state health department would need to annually inspect abortion clinics under Republican-sponsored legislation that was reviewed Tuesday in a Senate committee.
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It's among several abortion-related laws and bills that Missouri lawmakers are looking at, including oversight of abortion clinics during a House committee that also took place Tuesday.
The fetal tissue legislation is "meant to uphold medical standards, protect women and ensure the public safety," Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican, said, as well as "guard against the kind of abuses that have at times occurred in various abortion clinics around the country."
But the measure's health benefits were questioned by David Eisenberg, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
"While I understand the desire for this body to improve and promote the health and well-being of our Missouri citizens, I'm concerned that we are not doing that with this bill," Eisenberg told the Senate committee, arguing instead that women and others would be better served by expanding access to Medicaid, sexual education and family planning tools.
Onder's measure would prohibit donation of fetal tissue from abortions, which Eisenberg and other Planned Parenthood officials have said doesn't occur at the only clinic in the state that provides abortion, in St. Louis. The practice gained widespread attention following the release this summer of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists who said the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue. The videos also spurred an investigation of abortion practices in Missouri by a Senate committee on which Onder serves.
Provisions in the bill address concerns Republicans have raised during committee hearings, and those concerns came up again Tuesday at the meeting of the House Children and Families Committee.
Planned Parenthood officials have said clinics in the state do not participate in fetal-tissue donation programs and have cited an investigation by Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster that found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Some Republican members of the House committee said there's no way to know that fetal tissue from abortions is not donated because there's not enough oversight. That could foreshadow what's to come in terms of House legislation on abortion.
"At this point, there's nothing that helps us have that accountability that we're looking for," Children and Families Committee chairwoman and GOP Rep. Diane Franklin told the head of the state health department, which oversees abortion clinics. Her committee didn't review specific bills; she's also proposing a ban on fetal-tissue donation.
Other provisions of the Senate bill would require annual, unannounced inspections of abortion clinics and prohibit the state health department from waiving requirements for clinics to receive or renew abortion licenses. All fetal tissue, not only a representative sample as is now required, would need to go to a pathologist for inspection and disposal.
Eisenberg said that part of the measure might have unintended consequences, using the example of possibly keeping tissue samples from being turned over to law enforcement as evidence in cases of rape. Onder said he's open to amendments that would create exceptions in those circumstances.
The bill also specifies that physicians who perform abortions would need surgical and admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, which M'Evie Mead, director for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said isn't necessary and is a restriction "designed to make it more difficult for our doctors."
In the House hearing, Health and Senior Services Acting Director Peter Lyskowski said the agency has started to cross-reference abortion reports from Planned Parenthood with corresponding tissue reports from the pathology lab contracted with the clinic.
Onder's bill and a bill by Franklin would mandate such a review and require the agency submit an annual report of its findings to the Legislature.
Onder's bill needs committee approval before it can move to the full Senate for debate.