The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday afternoon that would allow the denial of certain medical services to women for religious reasons, following an emotional debate where the majority leader was forced to deny he compared women to farm animals.
House Majority Leader Tim Jones (R-Eureka) was on the defensive following an analogy he made during discussion of the bill he sponsored. The legislation would allow medical professionals to deny services like abortion, contraception, male or female sterilization, assisted reproduction and cloning based on religious objections by medical staff. Jones talked about the need for medical teams to be on the same page during a procedure and to ensure that one team member does not object to it.
Jones cited a personal experience he had.
"My father's a veterinarian. I grew up in operating rooms," Jones said, referring to how crowded operating rooms can be. Jones, a corporate and tax appeals attorney, also said he has spent time watching operations on humans as part of being a legislator.
Rep. Susan Carlson (D-St. Louis) objected to Jones' analogy, suggesting that he was comparing women to farm animals. Carlson, who has become a leading opponent of the bill and characterized it as an "assault on women," quickly found herself under attack from Jones' allies.
"He was not comparing women to a veterinarian operation," Rep. Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane) said. "He has been in hospitals around Missouri watching operations. To say he was comparing women to a veterinarian operation is disingenuine."
Neither Jones or Riddle said how many operations Jones has watched or why he was watching them. Riddle, a teacher, also said she has watched surgeries being performed.
"I do not believe that this bill downgrades women in any manner," Riddle said. "We're protecting Missouri citizens to take a word out of context from the bill handler is disingenuine."
The bill passed 113-41 with several Democrats joining Republicans to vote in favor. It is not known if the state Senate will take the bill up and Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has not indicated a position.
Jones and Republicans stressed several times that the bill is a "pro-worker" bill that provides hospital workers the right to not participate in certain procedures. The bill was amended in committee to specify which procedures could be objected to. The original version allowed objections to any medical procedure. The public health committee chairman, Rep. David Sater (R-Cassville), called the bill "a delight."
Rush Limbaugh and his beliefs on the national contraception debate were up briefly during the debate by two Democratic legislators, but House Speaker Steve Tilley (R-Perryville) gaveled the references out of order saying that the House was "not discussing talk show hosts." Other Republicans asked Tilley to stop references to Limbaugh.
The bill does not define a medical professional, a fact that concerns Democrats and Planned Parenthood officials. Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and southwestern Missouri, said the bill could be defined as allowing a receptionist or a billing clerk's objections to impact women's health.
While Jones and his allies tried to paint the bill as pro-women, opponents started calling it a "war on women."
"This is legalizing malpractice, that is wrong," said Rep. Stacy Newman (D-St. Louis). "If we are not getting accurate medical information in our time of crisis, this is a war on women."
Jones ended the debate with an angry, minute-long speech in which he took aim at his detractors and the news media, saying they are not mentioning Republican women. He said that Missouri Republican women have been holding top positions in the House caucus and characterized the words "war on women" as "partisan, evil, cruel statements."
"It is depressing and disgusting to ladies," Jones said of the Democratic arguments. "This bill has to do with protecting the religious liberties of workers."
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