- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri senators on Wednesday gave initial approval to proposals for new abortion restrictions in a state that already has some of the nation’s toughest abortion laws.

Senators in a voice vote advanced legislation that would enact annual health inspections of clinics and nullify a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” such as abortion.

The measure needs another vote of approval to move to the Republican-led House. The initial vote came after senators convened more than 10 hours later than originally planned because of prolonged negotiations between lawmakers.

Capitol rallies by abortion supporters and opponents, including an anti-abortion rally led by Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Greitens, who called state lawmakers back to the Capitol for the second special session this summer, spoke strongly in favor of undoing a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” such as abortion, saying it made the heavily Democratic city “an abortion sanctuary city.”

“We’ve got to raise our voices together and tell them, ‘Not on our watch,’” he told a crowd of roughly 200, many of whom held signs that read “protect life.”

Before that, roughly 200 abortion-rights advocates gathered in the Rotunda for a mock “People’s Special Session” in protest. Participants then taped signs with messages such as “Trust Women” outside Greitens’ Capitol office - a tactic he used against legislative opponents during the last special session he called.

“It feels so unfair,” said Ellen Schapiro, a 63-year-old resident of suburban St. Louis who volunteers at Planned Parenthood and attended the rally in the Rotunda. “If men got pregnant, they wouldn’t probably restrict it like this.”

Missouri is among the most restrictive states on abortion. For example, Missouri is one of only five states that requires women to wait 72 hours after receiving counseling before getting an abortion, which according to the Guttmacher Institute is the nation’s longest waiting period. The institute is a national organization that supports abortion rights.

Missouri also already bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions, one of 17 states with that limit.

Greitens said he called the special session in reaction to a St. Louis ordinance banning discrimination based on “reproductive health decisions” and a federal judge’s ruling that struck down some Missouri abortion restrictions passed by previous legislative sessions.

The ruling, which the state is appealing, tossed out Missouri requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. Greitens wants lawmakers to enact other restrictions on clinics in place of those that were struck down.

Also pending are applications by regional Planned Parenthood agencies to the health department seeking to get licenses to provide abortions in Columbia, Joplin, Kansas City and Springfield. Planned Parenthood now only offers the procedure in St. Louis.

The bill advancing in the Senate would also give the state attorney general, now abortion opponent Republican Josh Hawley, authority to prosecute violations of abortion laws. But in the latest version, senators tempered that power and said the state’s top law enforcement official can only step in if local officials don’t act.

Other differences between original proposals and the final Senate version include ditching a provision to ban abortion clinic staffers from asking ambulances to drive without lights or sirens.

The bill also gives more time than lawmakers originally proposed - five business days instead of 24 hours - for abortion clinics to submit fetal tissue from abortions for examination by pathologists, who would get 72 hours to submit a report. Currently there are no deadlines.

Some Missouri Republican lawmakers have been trying to pass more stringent laws dealing with fetal tissue since the 2015 release of undercover videos by anti-abortion activists, who said the videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue. Planned Parenthood officials have said clinics in the state do not participate in fetal-tissue donation programs.

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