The Missouri House of Representatives has adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant legal protection to preborn children from the moment of conception. The proposal would explicitly recognize for the first time in Missouri’s Constitution the right to life of every unborn human child.
House Joint Resolution 98, sponsored by Representative Mike Moon of Lawrence County, was granted final passage last week by the Missouri House by an impressive vote of 110-37. While it is highly unlikely that the bill will gain passage in the Missouri Senate in the final days of the session, it is nonetheless a significant pro-life legislative achievement. The 2016 regular session of the Missouri General Assembly adjourns at 6PM this Friday May 13th.
HJR 98 would establish that “unborn human children at every stage of their biological development have a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and…are created equal and entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law.”
The language of the proposed amendment also declares that the state “shall protect such life from deprivation by the state or private action to the extent permitted by the federal constitution.” This last phrase is one of considerable legal significance.
Representative Moon’s proposal is similar to bills introduced in other states that have often been referred to as “personhood amendments.” Like HJR 98, they establish the legal personhood of the unborn child. Unlike Representative Moon’s bill, they involve direct challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and subsequent decisions reaffirming a woman’s right to abortion on demand.
The legislation sponsored by Representative Moon adopts the same legal principles as “personhood amendments,” but only “to the extent permitted by the federal constitution.” Thus it would have no legal effect unless and until Roe v. Wade is overturned. However, if Roe v. Wade was reversed by a future Supreme Court and regulation of abortion returned to the states, Missouri would have an immediate constitutional ban on abortion.
Missouri already has language in state statutes that declares that the life of each human being begins at conception, and that unborn children have “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state” at every stage of the child’s biological development. This law was written to be subject to the Constitution of the United States, and “decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court.”
This Human Life Statute was adopted in 1986 and sponsored by yours truly. The language was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decsion. Representative Moon’s bill would insert similar language into Missouri’s Constitution. Unlike a state statute, that constitutional language could only be changed by a vote of the people.
However, House Joint Resolution 98 contains a troublesome section that grants the Missouri Legislature the continuing prerogative to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.” This language seems to undermine the central purposes of the bill. It would likely invite future legal challenges to the amendment in support of legislative efforts to weaken or eliminate constitutional protections for the right to life of the unborn child.
Representative Moon made an impassioned case for the sanctity of human life in urging his colleagues’ support of the measure. “When we see a pregnant woman, we know what’s inside–it’s a developing human baby boy or girl. I request that this entire body seriously consider what is going on in our society when we snuff out the life of a unique human individual for the sake of convenience.”
Representative Rick Brattin of Harrisonville deplored the continuing carnage of legalized abortion. “We’re killing kids so fast, it is insane. The epidemic of abortion is so out of control. It’s time we do something to put a stop to it.”
“All lives matter,” Brattin added. “It goes beyond any race, any creed, any gender because every life matters. No person should have the right to abort and to dictate whether another person lives or dies.”
State Representative Jay Barnes of Jefferson City, who is an attorney, defended the legitimacy of the language in the bill. “What it does is put Missouri in a position that it’s the most pro-life state in the country as allowed by the federal Constitution through the holdings of the United States Supreme Court.”
Should House Joint Resolution 98 somehow win passage in the Missouri Senate in the final days of session, it would be submitted to a statewide vote on the November general election ballot, unless Governor Jay Nixon decided to place it on the August primary ballot.
In the adjacent sidebar, you will find how state representatives voted on HJR 98.