Pro-life muscle memory in Missouri
Outright protections for the unborn remain on pause, but pro-life lawmakers advance the culture of life in other ways
When the Missouri legislature adjourned on May 14, the last day of the 2021 session, pro-life lobbyist Sam Lee returned to his Jefferson City apartment after dinner and slept for more than 11 hours. The next day, he drove for two hours back to his home in St. Louis, cut the grass, went to church, ate dinner with his wife, and watched a murder mystery on TV. “Time becomes different up there in the final weeks of the session,” he said. Everyday activities help him decompress and transition out of the months-long flurry of lobbyist work that kicked off Jan. 6.
But he’s still on the job. Lee said he logs into the government website PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) every morning to check the status of a case that’s on the minds of a lot of Missouri pro-life lawmakers and lobbyists. It’s a legal fight over House Bill 126, a piece of legislation Gov. Mike Parson signed in 2019 that included protections for babies with Down syndrome, prohibitions of race- or sex-selective abortions, and a trigger law that would ban abortions outright if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The legislation also includes protections for the unborn at 8, 14, 18, and 20 weeks that would kick in as courts strike down earlier limits.
Some parts of the bill went into effect as planned in summer 2019, but a federal judge blocked the protections at 8-20 weeks and the ban on Down syndrome abortions. A panel of judges on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case in September of this year but has yet to release its opinion. That’s what Lee checks for every day; a couple minutes into our phone call, he excused himself to perform what he called his “ritual.” Nothing.
Lee thinks the 8th Circuit may end up waiting until after the Supreme Court rules in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, about a pro-life law that protects babies from abortion after 15 weeks gestation, sometime next year. Until that happens, Lee and others don’t expect to see many more major pro-life bills pass in the state. In the meantime, pro-life lawmakers and lobbyists focused on other kinds of legislation that promote the culture of life.
“Because we passed such a big bill two years ago, any sort of … abortion restriction bills in the Missouri general assembly for the last two years … have not really gotten a whole lot of traction,” Lee said. He explained Missouri legislators are asking, “Why do we need more [pro-life] laws while we’re waiting for this ruling to see if it’s upheld by the courts or not?” Lee thinks that question partially explains why a fetal-remains bill and a born-alive bill didn’t get far beyond committee this session.
But that doesn’t mean all pro-life efforts are at a standstill. Lee successfully lobbied for an extension of the Maternity Home Tax Credit that also includes credits for adoptions and domestic violence shelters. He also celebrated the passage of an appropriations bill that funds an Alternatives to Abortion program and a program providing healthcare coverage for unborn babies.
Lee partnered with adoption agencies and domestic violence shelters to support the Maternity Home Tax Credit bill. The final version included extensions for all three tax credits and created a foster care tax deduction. On some legislation, those groups oppose his position. But coming together on this issue, he said, “get[s] lawmakers’ attention, and understandably so.”
The governor held a ceremonial signing of the tax credit bill in front of the Missouri Capitol building on April 22, surrounded by supportive lawmakers and a handful of kids from foster homes in dresses and collared shirts. After signing the official copy of the bill, Parson invited the children to sign their names on another copy. Some of the children helped others who have physical or learning disabilities to sign their names. “It was the most beautiful bill signing that I’ve ever attended,” Lee said. “I’m not one who cries, but there were some tears welling up in my eyes.”
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