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Abortion Debate in the Works

State Capital Bureau

February 21, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Forces on both sides of the abortion controversy are laying the groundwork for an expected confrontation this spring in the 1995 legislative session.

In the past years, legislative leaders have sought to avoid a full abortion debate in the House or Senate.

But this year, they may have no choice because of the federal court decision in Shalala v. Stangler which struck down Missouri's legal ban on using of government funds for all abortions except the case of danger of mother's life.

To bring the state into compliance with the Shalala decision, abortion-rights advocates have filed legislation that would permit state money in the cases or rape, incest, danger of mother's life or lethal abnormality.

But anti-abortion organizations, including the Missouri Catholic Conference and Missouri Right to Life, have vowed that they will fight against any attempt to use state money for abortions.

Government funding for abortions is just one of several bills in the legislature that could prompt a full-scale abortion debate.

Family Planning

Separate from the abortion-funding controversy is the issue of government funding for family planning centers.

From the start of his term as governor in 1993, Mel Carnahan has made state assistance for family planning centers a key issue in his legislative agenda.

But it has faced opposition from anti-abortion groups. They argue that funding the clinics, without adequate restrictions, would amount to an indirect way to finance abortions.

State law prohibits the state money being used for abortions, but it does not prohibit funds to clinics where abortions are performed.

``We don't take position in the matter of contraception. But the problem is that to give money to clinics that also do abortions is, even if not directly, to promote abortions. Money is always money and they won't have to get from other sources what they obtain from the government,'' said Patty Skain, director of Missouri Right to Life.

The Missouri Catholic Conference also is opposed.

``As a moral question, Catholics oppose artificial contraception, but we don't try to translate morality into policy making. The problem is that the majority of the Missourians oppose abortion and, at the same time, they have to see their money going to the business of people that promotes abortion,'' said Louis DeFeo, general counsel of Missouri Catholic Conference.

But Chris Sifford, the governor's chief spokesman, said opponents are making a mistake, because the debate is about family planning, and not abortion.

``In case they are not yet convinced about that, we have proof that, since we have financed family planning, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions practiced in Missouri, going form 16,240 in 1992 to 14,100 in 1994, and that is our main reason to support family planning,'' Sifford said.

Abortion Restrictions

As they did last year, anti-abortion forces are proposing legislation that would require doctors to inform a woman of all the alternatives prior to performing an abortion.

Under the proposal, a doctor would be required to advise a woman seeking an abortion about what is termed "peripregnancy care services." The services would be provided by an independent care giver trained by the state.

The care giver could not be a person with an economic interest in the abortion facility _ either as owner or employee of the facility.

``There are some good clinics that give the adequate counseling services, but most of them exist only to make money without regards or concerns for the women. If clinics really want to give all the information available, why do they oppose to a bill that wants to promote alternatives?,'' said Missouri Right to Life's Skain.

Abortion-rights advocates oppose the bill, saying that clinic doctors are able to give those services and in a more objective way.

``We do objective counseling. We don't try to persuade women to go in one direction or another. But the care-giver services are going to be performed by people who are specifically anti-abortionists. It is like if they made the decision for the woman since the beginning,'' said Coletta Eichenberger, local director of community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri.

But those in favor of the bill don't think clinics are objective at all. DeFeo said abortion-clinic staff are not objective.

``Their business is to provide abortions and not information. Would a used car dealer tell you the disadvantages of his cars? Our intention with the care givers is to protect consumers, women in this case, from someone who makes profit in a product, abortion clinics here,'' DeFeo said.

While supporting the care-giver bill, Missouri Right to Life says that this year its main legislative goal is another measure, termed the Women Medical Equity Act.

The proposal would extend the time limit a woman has to file a lawsuit against her doctor.

Currently, the lawsuit must be filed within two years after the abortion. The anti-abortion proposal would impose a three-year deadline that starts after the woman discovers an injury arising from the abortion.

The bill also permits the women to sue for psychological and emotional distress.

``It won't be too broad, because the woman will have to present some kind of documental proof. And if she has to go to the therapist ten years after the abortion, that should not make any difference, she has the right to sue,'' director of Missouri Right to Life said.