Committed Catholic citizens played a key role in the passage of pro-life legislation in the recently concluded veto session of the Missouri General Assembly, according to the Missouri Catholic Conference’s executive director, Mike Hoey.
“Catholics from around the state contacted their legislators and it made a big difference,” Hoey said. “Without those calls and emails I don’t think we could have passed this much pro-life legislation.”
During the veto session on Wednesday, September 10 state legislators passed three pro-life measures: a bill giving women 72-hours of reflection time before making an abortion decision; an expansion of the tax credits that donors can claim when giving to pregnancy help centers, maternity homes and food pantries; and, a restoration of $500,000 in the state’s Alternatives to Abortion (ATA) program, all of which were previously vetoed by Governor Nixon.
“That is a lot of pro-life legislation to move through the general assembly in a one-day veto session,” Hoey noted.
Reflection Period Before Abortion Decision
According to Hoey, the biggest challenge during the veto session came in passing the 72-hour reflection bill, HB 1307. Since the bill was a House bill, the effort to override Governor Nixon’s veto had to begin in the Missouri House. Sponsor Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa) made the motion to pass HB 1307 into law, the governor’s veto notwithstanding. A very emotional debate then began.
“I value life at all costs and I am glad we live in a country where we value and protect life. All lives are equal,” said Elmer, beginning the heated debate.
Opponents of the waiting period argued that this legislation is “really about not trusting women to put enough thought into a serious health decision,” Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) said.
Fortunately, other women in the House stood up in support of the override. “[If] you get a couple of more days to think about this pregnancy, think about where it’s going, you may change your mind [about having an abortion]” said Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles).
After passage in the Missouri House, the reflection period bill faced an even bigger hurdle in the Missouri Senate. “The Missouri Senate prides itself on allowing free and full debate and that’s great, but there comes a time when a vote should be taken,” Hoey said.
Just after midnight, after a very long day, Senator David Sater (R-Cassville) moved the previous question on HB 1307. The Senate rarely moves the previous question, which, if adopted, requires an immediate vote on the legislation under consideration. However, when it became clear that opponents would filibuster throughout the night and into the morning of September 11, Senate leadership decided it was time to vote on the bill. Ultimately, the Senate approved HB 1307.
With the override of Governor Nixon’s veto, Missouri becomes only the third state in the nation to enact a 72-hour waiting period along with Utah and South Dakota.
Alternatives to Abortion/Tax Credits
In addition to allowing more reflection time before an abortion decision, the general assembly provided more funding to Missouri’s Alternatives to Abortion (ATA) program, as well as expanding tax credits for pregnancy help centers, maternity homes, and food pantries.
During the regular session, state legislators appropriated $2.03 million for Missouri’s ATA Program. Governor Nixon, however, vetoed $500,000 from the program. During the veto session legislators restored this $500,000 in funding.
The ATA program helps pregnant women carry their child to term instead of having an abortion. ATA also assists women in caring for their child or placing their child for adoption. ATA aims to reduce abortions and aid in improving pregnancy outcomes by assisting women in need with medical and non-medical services. For up to a year after the child is born, ATA also assists with job training and placement.
During the regular session, legislators also expanded existing state tax credits available when people donate to pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes, and food pantries. The governor vetoed the expansion of these credits, but due to the legislative override of the Governors’ veto, $2.5 million will be available for pregnancy help centers, $2.5 million will be available for maternity homes, and $1.75 million in tax credits will be available for food pantries.
The tax credits encourage more donations to these agencies. Donors can claim a state income tax credit for 50% of their contribution. For example, if a donor gives $500 they can claim a tax credit of $250, provided they have that much tax liability.
“Taken together, the ATA program and the tax credits provide powerful assistance to some of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens,” Hoey said.
Opponents were incredulous at the idea of funding both the ATA program and the tax credits, but pro-life legislators went through the funding numbers to show how these two programs work together to serve the most vulnerable and are well worth the state investment.
State Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) said that the ATA programs might possibly be the best veto override that the general assembly could sustain, “I think it is heroic to choose life…ATA programs help women make that heroic choice and help them build a life to look forward to. [There are] Missouri children who might not have been born without the existence of the ATA programs,” Barnes said.
The legislation passed the House, and later went to the Senate, where it was approved without debate.
The efforts of legislators were bolstered by the presence of many pro-life citizens who came to the Missouri State Capitol during the veto session to rally and pray. The repeated chanting of “override, override, override…” filled the capitol as hundreds of people made their voice heard. Women and men of all ages attended the pro-life rally, listening to speakers who shared their experiences and stories.
Women who spoke at the gathering included a woman who suffered post-abortion trauma, the grandmother of a child conceived in rape, and the former manager of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility. All speakers stated that the 72-hour reflection period is important in helping a woman make a life altering decision.
House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) also spoke at the rally. “This is greater than all of us; this comes from the Creator. Who says we should judge if life is brought into this world or not?”