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Saturday 24 August 2019

Missouri governor signs bill banning abortions at eight weeks

Doctors who violate the eight-week cut-off could face five to 15 years in prison.

Mike Parson (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Mike Parson (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

By Summer Ballentine, Associated Press

The governor of Missouri has signed a bill that bans abortion from the eighth week of pregnancy – without exceptions for cases of rape or incest – making it among the most restrictive policy in the US.

Under the law that comes into force on August 28, doctors who violate the eight-week cut-off could face five to 15 years in prison.

A legal challenge is expected, although it is unclear when that might occur.

The measure includes exceptions for medical emergencies, such as when there is a risk of death or permanent physical injuries to “a major bodily function of the pregnant woman”.

But women who become pregnant after being raped or subjected to incest will not be allowed to abort after eight weeks. Women who terminate their pregnancies cannot be prosecuted under the law.

When pressed last week on the rape and incest issue, governor Mike Parson, a Republican, told reporters that “all life has value”.

President Donald Trump has said he supports exceptions in cases of rape and incest.

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Donald Trump (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Missouri businessman David Humphreys, a wealthy Republican donor, had urged Mr Parson to veto the bill.

“A bill this restrictive, without the opportunity for exceptions for rape and incest, is bad public policy and bad for Missourians,” Mr Humphreys said.

Alabama’s governor signed a bill on May 15 making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.

Supporters have said they hope to provoke a legal challenge that will eventually force the Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that legalised abortion nationally.

Unlike Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, legislators who helped draft the Missouri bill say it is meant to withstand court challenges instead of spark them. If the eight-week ban is struck down, the bill includes a ladder of less restrictive time limits at 14, 18 or 20 weeks.

Missouri’s bill also includes an outright ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergencies, but that would kick in only if the Roe vs Wade decision that legalised abortion is overturned.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have also approved bans on abortions once foetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

Some of those laws already have been challenged in court, and similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa have been struck down by judges.

Missouri already has some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations, including a requirement that doctors performing abortions have partnerships with nearby hospitals.

Missouri is down to one clinic performing abortions, which is in St Louis.

A total of 3,903 abortions occurred in Missouri in 2017, the last full year for which the state Department of Health and Senior Services has statistics online.

Of those, 1,673 occurred at under nine weeks and 119 occurred at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy.

A total of 2,910 abortions occurred in 2018 in Missouri, according to the agency.

The bill also bans abortions based solely on race, sex or a diagnosis indicating the potential for Down’s syndrome.

It also requires a parent or guardian giving written consent for a minor to get an abortion to first notify the other parent, except if the other parent has been convicted of a violent or sexual crime, is subject to a protection order, is “habitually in an intoxicated or drugged condition”, or lacks legal or physical custody.

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