Senate considers rare move to aid pro-life bill
JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Senate entered the second full week of April poised to use a rare parliamentary procedure that could wind up helping pro-life citizens in the short run while setting off an ominous chain of events in the long run that ultimately could paralyze the ability of lawmakers to enact public policy in a polarized Capitol.
The maneuver is known as “calling for the previous question,” or “PQ.” By tradition, senators never resort to this, preferring instead to have the approval of a colleague who is filibustering. It carries the danger of alienating senators from the minority party who tend to seek retribution for the action by making it difficult to move forward other bills.
“It’s very divisive,” said Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Christian Life Commission. “It creates a political meltdown in the Senate.”
Republicans, who control all three levers of power in Missouri state government with majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate as well as in the executive branch with Gov. Matt Blunt and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, have been watching how Democrats filibuster. A policy filibuster, which typically includes a few Republicans joining in, is acceptable. A political filibuster, where Democrats orchestrate their actions simply for the sake of torpedoing a Republican bill, is not. This is how the “PQ” is becoming a more palatable option for the majority party, Messer said—and how ultimately the pro-life community may benefit from this risky move.
Senate Bill 370 is “the No. 1 priority pro-life bill of the year,” Messer said. On March 28 it was filibustered for five hours in a manner where it was placed back on the informal calendar. Messer was asked whether he thought that was a political filibuster.
“The frustration of the Senate leadership, as I understand it, was that it degraded into just that,” Messer said.
Blunt told The Pathway in an April 5 interview that the bill is a priority.
“These are practical steps that we can take that will reduce the number of abortions in the state of Missouri and help build a culture that embraces human life,” the governor said. “This is extremely important legislation. I’m very anxious to sign it.”
Messer noted that it is a well-packaged bill that has been put together with balance and discipline. The process of “PQ”, which involves five senators choosing to sign a petition and at least 18 voting to override the filibuster, would be very doable on this measure in a Missouri Senate where as many as 27 members claim to be pro-life, Messer said.
To borrow a biblical phrase, Senate leaders appear to be counting the cost of using the “PQ” to move not just one but a series of bills. The question then becomes, “What type of Senate would be left after the trigger is pulled?” Messer said the aftermath of using the “PQ” may “spiral down into an unrecoverable meltdown in the Senate.” But the pro-life bill also could pass into the House this way, giving a body that is staunchly pro-life a clear shot at sending it on to a pro-life governor.
Messer, who has been tracking the nuances of Missouri state government since the 1980s, said 2007 has been marked by “a little more” talk about using the “PQ.” Now that term limits have completely changed the look and feel of both chambers, he said the importance of tradition is being downplayed while breaking tradition appears to be less daunting.
“The only people in the House or in the Senate are people with eight years or less experience either in the House or in the Senate,” Messer said. “With that, the dynamics of tradition have been changing. Attitudes toward using electronic devices in and around Senate chambers are changing. Attitudes about all types of decorum issues are changing.”
Prohibit abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education and providing sex education materials in public schools. Schools would also have an additional option of teaching an abstinence-based curriculum, according to federal abstinence sex education guidelines;
Require any abortion facility which completes one abortion or more in the second or third trimester of pregnancy or five abortions or more in the first trimester of pregnancy to be an ambulatory surgical center. This will ensure that all Missouri abortion clinics submit to state health inspections and maintain sterile environments, which is not the case now, Messer said. A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman told the Associated Press that this provision of the bill, if it were to become law, could force Planned Parenthood to stop doing abortions at clinics in Columbia and Kansas City;
Establish the Missouri Alternatives to Abortion Services Program and the Missouri Alternatives to Abortion Public Awareness Program. The program, which is not currently secured in state statutes, will provide services or counseling to pregnant women as well as help to women to care for their children and/or place them up for adoption.
Planned Parenthood has complained that the bill will harm its effort to provide necessary services in the state, but Messer explained that the bill reflects a gradual shift in thinking by the people of Missouri.
“Under the Carnahan and Holden administrations, Planned Parenthood accessed public funds to develop family planning programs,” Messer said. “They were able to create an image of being concerned about underage pregnancy, and they got themselves even more institutionally ingrained into Missouri public schools. So their complaint now is that they’re an ingrained institution being picked on. Well, that would have never happened had we not had these pro-abortion governors using our tax dollars to reward these people for their political activism.”