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Further restrictions on aborted fetal tissue debated in House committee

Further prohibiting the use of fetal tissue is the goal of legislation discussed by Missouri House lawmakers Wednesday.

"The intent of this legislation is to protect from individuals and entities profiting off of unborn babies that had been aborted," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, during a hearing at the state Capitol.

The bill's language prohibits the use of fetal tissue or organs resulting from an abortion for "medical, scientific, experimental, therapeutic, or any other use."

Any doctor who knowingly performs an abortion for the purpose of using the fetal tissue or organs would be subject to a felony and would lose their medical license.

Maggie Olivia, policy manager for Pro-Choice Missouri, spoke in opposition to the proposed legislation. She said it was anti-science and undermines common medical research practices.

The bill text changes the word "fetus" to "unborn child" and criminalizes the "hoarding of aborted human remains."

"The inflammatory language of this bill is not based in reality, and it is only intended to stigmatize abortion patients and doctors by distorting the truth as well as to encourage further harassment of health care providers," said Olivia.

Representatives from Campaign Life Missouri, Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference spoke in favor of the legislation.

Tyler McClay with the Missouri Catholic Conference said this new bill would go further than current legislation to prohibit the use of fetal remains.

"If you read the statute, I think it's a little bit vague. It says that no physician can perform an abortion knowing that the person has decided to have the abortion in order to to donate remains," said McClay. "This is just saying you just can't donate remains at all."

M'Evie Mead, director of legislative affairs for Advocates for Planned Parenthood, said Missouri statute already prohibits research on tissue from an abortion. She called this a "trap bill."

"What this bill is doing, and it looks to us as though it's trying to hold up and stigmatize people who are seeking abortion, and therefore both chill people from seeking abortion and people who are engaged in scientific research," said Mead.

The bill does include a few specific exceptions. Fetal organs or tissue can be used to "determine the cause or causes of any anomaly, illness, death, or genetic condition of the unborn child, the paternity of the unborn child, or for law enforcement purposes."

Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she would support the bill if it specifically granted mothers the right to use the tissue to determine what went wrong in a miscarriage or other medical circumstance. Currently, it does not.

"We're allowing the study or determining of causes of illness or anomalies. It would be beneficial to do that as well for the mom," said Proudie.

Committee Chair Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said they'll take a vote on the proposed legislation Thursday.

Jana Rose Schleis is a M.A. student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is studying investigative journalism and government reporting.