Gov. Nixon allows abortion restriction to pass into law

The bill goes into effect Aug. 28.

Gov. Jay Nixon last week refused to challenge legislation mandating that Missouri doctors providing drug-induced abortions need to be physically present for the initial dose.

House Bill 400, only a paragraph long, additionally specifies that physicians “must make all reasonable efforts” to schedule a follow-up visit so as to confirm the pregnancy’s termination.

The bill ends the practice of telemedicine—dosage of RU-486, the pregnancy-ending drug, supervised via webcam by a doctor—that’s been in use by abortion providers for over a decade. Though the governor didn’t sign the bill, his refusal to veto it means that it passes into law under Article III, Section 31 of Missouri’s constitution.

Nixon, whose office did not return requests for comment, is no stranger to inaction on abortion legislation.

Aside from his veto of a 2012 bill that would have allowed employers to deny contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ insurance, he’s largely stayed out of the debate surrounding reproductive rights. It’s a stance that’s drawn criticism from vocal Democrats, but given him an edge with social conservatives.

Yet to Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, HB400’s passage is major—the culmination of months of legislative effort. Wallingford, the sponsor of the bill’s Senate equivalent, asserted that requiring a doctor’s presence just makes sense. 
“We wanted to make sure that in using a very dangerous drug that the mother is kept safe,” he said. “Over a webcam, a doctor can’t gauge the health of the mother.”

And Wallingford pointed out that while the bill’s supporters were mostly Republicans, that doesn’t mean it’s about politics.

“Any time you talk about abortion, you raise neck hairs on both sides of the pro-life and pro-choice argument,” he said. “If you want to think about it as a pro-life bill, look at it as a pro-life bill in support of the mother.”

Reagan Nielsen, the founder of MU Students for Life, affirmed the organization’s support for HB400.

“There have been instances where a woman can bleed for days. It’s not safe, especially without a physician,” Nielsen said of telemedicine. She noted that banning the procedure is one step closer to tighter restriction of abortion.

“I can guarantee you that all of our members are excited about the legislation,” she said.

But Planned Parenthood doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Paula Gianino, president and CEO of the organization’s St. Louis and Southwest Missouri branch, and Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of its Kansas and Mid-Missouri branch, argued in a joint statement that the legislation only serves to restrict rural Missourians’ access to an otherwise safe procedure.

"People in rural areas often have to drive very long distances to see a doctor in person,” the statement says. “Health care centers, particularly in these areas, increasingly use telemedicine services for patients to receive quality medical care.”

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