JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri senators weighed Tuesday whether the state’s attorney general should have total authority to prosecute abortion law violations or only if local prosecutors refuse to act.
The question of prosecutorial powers is among several differences between the Senate version of the abortion bill and a stricter House version, which Republican Gov. Eric Greitens supports. Senators must either pass the House bill in the current special session, or stick with their own and hope the House will reconsider. Senators also could send the bill to conference committee to hammer out a compromise.
The House version would give the state attorney general more latitude than the Senate version to prosecute violations of abortion law. Senators agreed to give the attorney general, now Republican Josh Hawley, the ability to prosecute those crimes if local prosecutors don’t act. The state attorney general would need to give local prosecutors 10 days’ notice under the Senate version.
Under the House version, the attorney general could step in to prosecute alleged abortion crimes at any time.
Supportive Republican lawmakers say they want to give the attorney general new authority out of concern that a local prosecutor, particularly in a Democratic-leaning city, might not pursue potential abortion-law violations. But some Republican and Democratic senators have raised concerns about giving more power to the attorney general.
The House version, unlike the Senate’s, also would make it a crime for abortion clinic staff to ask ambulances to respond to calls without lights or sirens.
Other additions include a provision that would require either doctors who refer women to receive abortions or the physicians performing abortions to have state-mandated discussions with women about the procedure and its risks at least 72 hours earlier. Currently, nurses, physicians’ assistants, licensed counselors and others can also provide that information to women.
Both the House and Senate versions would mandate annual inspections of abortion clinics by the state health department. Supporters say the legislation will exempt pregnancy resource centers from a St. Louis ordinance that bans discrimination in employment and housing based on reproductive health decisions such as abortion.
Abortion-rights advocates have criticized the legislation as medically unnecessary. M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said in a statement that the special session is “about restricting Missourians’ access to safe, legal abortion.”
Greitens is scheduled to speak at an Aspen Institute Republican governor’s panel in Colorado on Tuesday. His spokesman didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.