As far as anyone can tell, a so-called "partial-birth" abortion has never occurred in Missouri. This may be partly because the state has banned all late-term abortions since 1979.
Nonetheless, this year, Missouri legislators once again found it necessary to spend countless hours and tax dollars debating the "issue" of partial-birth abortion. Our Legislature spent more time this year on abortion than on improving education, fighting crime, fostering job growth or protecting children from abuse.
To most Missourians -- myself included -- a so-called "partial-birth" abortion is a gruesome and unacceptable procedure. Although it's already banned under Missouri law, many legislators want very badly to be on record opposing the procedure. But in their rush to stop a heinous procedure that is not performed here, they passed a bill far more extreme than almost anyone could imagine.
The bill bans virtually all abortions back to the sixth week of pregnancy. It contains no exceptions for rape or incest, or for an abortion necessary to prevent severe and permanent damage to a woman's health. And it makes any physician who performs, and any woman who undergoes, a banned abortion criminally liable for murder.
If that's not extreme enough, by inserting the ban into the criminal code instead of into Missouri's abortion statutes, the Legislature provided a legal defense to anyone who uses violence -- including deadly force -- to prevent an abortion that he or she "reasonably believes" is banned by the bill. The Legislature also explicitly, and gratuitously, incorporated this defense directly into the bill itself.
I vetoed this bill because it is unconstitutional, extreme and dangerous. It is not merely a ban on partial-birth abortions as its authors claim. It is a far-reaching and deceptive attempt to ban practically all abortions by characterizing them as partial-birth abortions.
You don't have to take my word for it. Newspapers across the country have written about Missouri's new "extremist" and "radical" abortion law. Health care and legal scholars throughout the nation have called for its reversal. Just a few days ago, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional three anti-abortion laws similar to Missouri's new law. Moreover, in terms of degree and scope, the three laws struck down by the court are less extreme than Missouri's law.
For example, Missouri's law bans abortions earlier in pregnancy than the laws of the other three states. And only Missouri's law provides a legal defense for use of violence. Some legislators supported this bill because they feared a political backlash if they voted against a measure so successfully portrayed as necessary to prevent the abortion of infants in the final moments of delivery.
Others clearly intended to use the bill as an opportunity to ban almost all abortions and make women who have even a first-trimester abortion guilty of murder.
Whatever their individual motivations, the result was a bad bill that I could not in good conscience sign. I vetoed it and again called on the Legislature to pass a new constitutionally sound bill that bans only partial-birth abortions and that includes a health exception, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court.
I have, for years, told anti-choice legislators that I would sign such a bill as a way of resolving this issue and enabling the Legislature to move on to other pressing needs.
Unfortunately, they have refused to send me such a bill, no doubt because it does not allow them to achieve their true objective of criminalizing all or most abortions.
Even most pro-choice Missourians, like myself, strongly object to the partial-birth abortion procedure. Therefore, I am willing to sign a bill banning partial-birth abortions, even though the procedure is already illegal in Missouri.
However, I am not willing to sign a bill that is intended to overturn Roe vs. Wade. As a personal matter, I have always opposed abortion. As governor, I have fought hard for ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies so that fewer abortions would occur.
But I have also always supported the right of a woman to make this highly personal decision for herself, without government intervention.
I have no regrets about opposing this bill. It is my obligation as governor to oppose bad legislation regardless of political pressures. It is my responsibility to tell the truth about what is in a bill even when some people don't want to hear it.
Now that the matter is in the courts, perhaps the Legislature will move on to other issues like improving schools and fighting crime. Crime, unlike partial-birth abortion, actually does occur in Missouri.