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Missouri's GOP aims to amend the state's constitution so there's no right to abortion

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tomorrow is the last day of the legislative session in Missouri. And in that narrow window, Republican lawmakers are pushing to further restrict abortion. Here's Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio.

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JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: In the last week of Missouri's 2022 session, lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and curious schoolchildren are roaming around the Capitol at a frenetic pace, trying to soak in the final moments of legislative activity for the year. But State Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman's thoughts right now aren't just on the end of a busy session. The Republican lawmaker is thinking a lot about how to protect the trigger law she helped pass in 2019.

MARY ELIZABETH COLEMAN: My sister is eight years younger than me, and I remember my mom got an ultrasound and seeing the picture of the ultrasound of my little sister and how precious she is to me. And it is, in my opinion and so many others, the civil rights issue of our nation right now.

ROSENBAUM: That trigger law is getting a lot of attention now because of a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade. Coleman and other Republicans are cautious the draft may not be final, but if it is, Missouri would ban abortions with very few exceptions. Sam Lee wants to help Republicans go further by putting a measure before voters. The longtime advocate for abortion restrictions says a state constitutional amendment would protect the 2019 trigger law.

SAM LEE: So we want to amend our Constitution, make it abortion-neutral so that there's no right to abortion found in the Constitution and no right for funding of abortion found in the Constitution.

ROSENBAUM: Missourians may very well approve that idea. Over the years, voters have elected candidates from both parties who oppose abortion rights, but some feel that Missouri has gone too far on abortion restrictions. The trigger law was controversial because there were no exceptions for people who became pregnant because of rape or incest. Backers of the law, including Senator Andrew Koenig, defended that decision in 2019 like this.

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ANDREW KOENIG: Rape and incest are horrific acts. You can't go far enough on the punishment on the people that do these acts. They're just completely horrific. We shouldn't do another bad act because one bad act happened.

ROSENBAUM: Taylor Hirth, though, believes the trigger law is completely unacceptable. She was raped in her apartment in 2016.

TAYLOR HIRTH: The emotional toll that that experience took on me, and then to compound that with a potential pregnancy would have just broken me.

ROSENBAUM: Hirth is now an advocate for survivors of sexual violence. She says the possibility of Roe vs. Wade being overturned is motivating her about the November election.

HIRTH: You know, we've got people planning marches, and I'm like, I'm so sick of marching. I'm done marching. You know, all I can do is vote, and I absolutely will be voting for people who are very vocally pro-choice and who are not afraid to make that a rally cry.

ROSENBAUM: The Missouri legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, so it would take a long time to elect enough Democrats here to roll back abortion restrictions, but there's a U.S. Senate race in Missouri this year. And if a Democrat wins, it could help toward passing a federal law guaranteeing the right to an abortion everywhere. While Republicans are skeptical they will lose that race, a Democrat did win campaigning on abortion rights ten years ago.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL: When I try to tell people what the law is going to be in Missouri, in about 10 minutes, most of them don't believe me.

ROSENBAUM: Claire McCaskill won a landslide victory in 2012 after Republican Todd Akin said that women who are, quote, "legitimately raped" could shut down their pregnancies. She says it's notable that GOP leaders tried to get Akin to drop out in 2012, but now Republicans running for Senate this year embrace the state's trigger law.

MCCASKILL: It's startling. It's stunning how extreme the party has become and how far they're willing to go to marginalize women in the state.

ROSENBAUM: McCaskill contends that the pending Supreme Court decision could prompt Missourians to pay more attention to elections for Missouri's House and Senate, especially since they'll determine the future of abortion access if Roe vs. Wade falls. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in Jefferson City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.