More late-term abortion restrictions will become Missouri law

JEFFERSON CITY — New restrictions on late-term abortions in Missouri will become law Aug. 28 without Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature.

Nixon, a Democrat, announced Thursday that he will not veto legislation passed earlier this year by the General Assembly, but he would not formally sign it either. In the absence of action by the governor, legislation passed by the General Assembly automatically becomes law.

Thursday was the constitutional deadline for the governor to veto bills.

At an appearance in Kansas City and in a statement, Nixon announced how he would handle the abortion legislation but offered no explanation for why he declined to sign or veto it.

“It’s going to become law,” he said. “I just feel this is the best way. The most important thing ultimately is to prevent (abortions), and the best way to do that is focus on women’s health issues and many other things in that area.”

Nixon took similar action in 2010 when he declined to sign or veto a different abortion bill passed by lawmakers.

Under current law, doctors are barred from performing abortions on viable fetuses — those able to survive outside the womb — unless the health or life of the mother is at risk.

The new law maintains that ban, but it rewrites the mother’s health exception to specify that an abortion can proceed only if a woman’s physical well-being is threatened.

Also under the bill, abortion providers are required to determine the gestational age of a fetus before performing the procedure. For any fetus 20 weeks of age or more, the doctor must determine whether it is viable.

Performing an abortion on a viable fetus when the mother’s health did not require it would be a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000.

Opponents of abortion said the new law adds much-needed restrictions on the circumstances under which a late-term abortion can be performed.

The exception allowing an abortion in order to protect the health of the mother may be applied far too liberally under the current law, said Pam Fichter, president of Missouri Right to Life.

“The health exception really has been interpreted to be anything the mother wants it to be,” Fichter said. “This was legislation that raised the bar on protecting unborn children in late-term pregnancies from being aborted.”

Abortion rights advocates, however, said the additional restrictions could create difficult situations for women with complications that arise late in their pregnancies.

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