The Missouri House passed a bill on Friday to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, a measure that comes amid a flurry of anti-abortion legislation in statehouses across the United States as Republican lawmakers mount direct challenges to federal protections for the procedure.
The bill now moves to the desk of Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, who is expected to sign it into law.
If enacted, Missouri would become the fifth American state this year to adopt such a policy, which would prohibit abortion at about eight weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. The only exceptions would be when the mother’s life is at risk, but not for cases of rape or incest.
The bill follows another piece of abortion legislation from Alabama that was signed this week that went further – effectively banning abortion in the state.
Anti-abortion legislation has been passing at a rapid pace, mostly in the U.S. South, in an effort to challenge Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that established federal protections for abortion.
Under the Missouri law, doctors who break the law would be prosecuted and could receive prison sentences of five to 15 years. Women who seek abortions will not be prosecuted.
“Until the day that we no longer have abortions in this country, I will never waver in the fight for life,” Mr. Parson said this week at a gathering of supporters of the bill.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have also banned the procedure once fetal cardiac activity is detected. Many states say heartbeat bills would prohibit abortion around six weeks; Missouri’s bill estimated that it would be around eight weeks.
Even if the bill is signed into law, that does not mean it will go into effect. Heartbeat bills have passed, and been suspended in court challenges, in several states. Two bans, in Iowa and North Dakota, died in court challenges before this year, and Kentucky’s bill, which passed this year, was suspended by a judge.
David Eisenberg, the medical director of Reproductive Health Services, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri, which is the last abortion provider in the state, said he was worried that, with all the news and headlines, women would be left with the impression that abortion was no longer legal in Missouri at all.
In a phone interview on Friday morning, Dr. Eisenberg said he wanted women in his state to know that “our doors are open and we are still providing abortions here.”
Dr. Eisenberg has watched abortion access erode over the years, as the legislature in his state has passed regulation after regulation. Now, his clinic is the last one left. He said Missouri is a kind of postcard from the future in which federal protections for abortion are no longer the laws of the land.
“People are asking me what do we do if Roe is overturned,” he said. “My answer is, come see what it’s like in Missouri. We are already dealing with it. The future is here for us.”