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Missouri governor signs bill banning abortions at 8 weeks

JEFFERSON CITY, MO - MAY 17: Missouri Governor Mike Parson addresses the media on the last day of legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol Building on May 17, 2019 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Tension and protest arose after the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill to ban abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed a bill that bans abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions for cases of rape or incest, making it among the most restrictive abortion policies in the nation.

Under the law that comes into force Aug. 28, doctors who violate the eight-week cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison. A legal challenge is expected, although it’s 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 find themselves 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.

Parson defended the lack of exceptions for rape and incest to a group of abortion opponents gathered Friday in his Capitol office.

“Is it a terrible thing that happens in those situations? Yes it is. … But the reality of it is bad things do happen sometimes. But you have two months to decide what you’re going to do with that issue, and I believe in two months you can make a decision,” he said.

Missouri businessman David Humphreys, a wealthy Republican donor, had urged Parson to veto the bill, calling it “bad public policy” to not have exceptions for rape or incest.

Missouri state House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a written statement the law treats women “as little more than fetal incubators with no rights or role in the decision, even in cases of rape and incest.”

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 U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationally.

Unlike Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, lawmakers who helped draft the Missouri bill say it’s 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 Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion is overturned.

Kentucky , Mississippi , Ohio and Georgia also have approved bans on abortions once fetal 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.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri Director M’Evie Mead said the organization “will do everything we can to protect access to abortion in Missouri — and hold these extreme politicians accountable for their attacks on our health care.”

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 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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