- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers are debating whether to ban a common second-trimester abortion method.

A House committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit doctors from using forceps or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces. Such instruments are commonly used in dilation and evacuation procedures, which the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has said is the safest and most common abortion procedure in the U.S. in the second trimester.

The bill calls the method “dismemberment abortion,” echoing a description coined by anti-abortion groups. It is similar to laws passed in Kansas and Oklahoma that courts have put on hold.

Dilation and evacuation procedures accounted for 601 - or about 11 percent - of the 5,416 abortions performed in Missouri during 2013, the most recent year for which the state has posted data online. But the method was used almost exclusively for abortions performed after 14 weeks. Missouri bans abortions at 20 weeks or later, with exceptions if the woman’s health is at risk or if the fetus is not viable.

Under the bill, doctors who employ that procedure could face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. They could also be sued for damages.

Rep. Tila Hubrecht, the Dexter Republican who sponsored the legislation, said it is not intended to outlaw abortion but to make it more humane. Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, a conservative lobbying group that supports the bill, said this abortion method is “about as brutal as you can get.”

Sarah Rossi, the director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said the bill is unconstitutional and puts an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

“Missouri is a state with so many restrictions on abortions already. There’s a point where you go too far and you’re going to have to reckon with the courts,” she said.

Laura McQuade, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said she is confident the measure wouldn’t hold up in court.

Abortion opponents have suggested that doctors could avoid violating such bans and still perform safe abortions by first giving the fetus a lethal injection or by severing its umbilical cord in the womb. However, a lawsuit challenging Kansas’ law said that there have been few studies of the safety of the alternative methods and that lethal injections for the fetus could increase of nausea, vomiting and infection in women.

In Missouri, some supporters of the ban said that they believe doctors favor dilation and evacuation methods in the second trimester so that they can harvest fetal tissue. They pointed to undercover videos about Planned Parenthood that alleged the nation’s largest abortion provider illegally sold fetal tissue to make a profit - a claim Planned Parenthood has strongly denied.

“They want that tissue for research,” Patty Skain, the executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said. “They don’t want to use chemicals because chemicals get into the cells of the baby.”

Planned Parenthood has said a few of its clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursement for the costs of providing fetal tissue donated by some of its abortion clients. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.

Hubrecht, who introduced a similar measure last year that never came up for a vote, said she wasn’t motivated by the videos.


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