- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Republican candidate for Missouri governor Catherine Hanaway during an anti-abortion rally Tuesday said the penalty for selling aborted fetus remains should be a felony, not a misdemeanor.

Hanaway spoke to a group of about 50 people outside Planned Parenthood’s Columbia Health Center. They gathered in response to covertly recorded video released by an anti-abortion group showing the organization’s senior director of medical services discussing procedures for providing fetal body parts to researchers. The recordings have spurred outrage from a number of Republican elected officials nationwide.

“It’s time to make it a felony to sell baby organs in Missouri,” Hanaway told a cheering crowd. About 15 others held signs in support of Planned Parenthood.

One recording released last week shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services, discussing procedures for providing fetal body parts to researchers. The commercial sale of fetal tissue is illegal, but Planned Parenthood has said it legally helps women who want to make not-for-profit donations of their fetus’ organs for scientific research.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has said it doesn’t participate in such a program.

Hanaway called on Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to hold a special session so lawmakers could work to ramp up current penalties. She cited a Missouri statute banning offering or receiving “valuable consideration” for aborted fetal tissue or organs. The statute later notes violations of that and other state laws on abortion are misdemeanors “unless a different penalty is provided for in state law.”

Hanaway, a former state House Speaker and U.S. attorney, faces what could be a crowded primary for the governor’s race next year.

Columbia resident Carolyn Woodward, who attended the Tuesday rally, said it’s important to her that GOP candidates are clear on their stance on abortion.

Planned Parenthood and its supporters have said actions by lawmakers and candidates in response to the video are politically motivated as the 2016 election cycle approaches.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican running for attorney general in 2016, is heading a Senate investigation. A Missouri House committee also has been formed to review the organization’s practices in Missouri.

Sarah Catlin, a volunteer at Planned Parenthood’s Columbia location who rallied Tuesday to support the center, called another investigation by Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster into whether any state laws have been broken “the most obscene form of political grandstanding.”

Koster is running for governor in 2016. An attorney general spokeswoman referred to a previous statement by Koster, who last week said that “regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, the questions raised by these videos require careful review.”

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine

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