Anti-Abortion Bill Advances without Normal Warring Rights Forces Picking Their Battles, They Say

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The House, normally a hotbed for raucous debate when it comes to anti-abortion bills, was conspicuously silent Wednesday as it let one sail through unchallenged.

The bill would put new restrictions on abortion doctors, requiring them to carry $1 million in medical malpractice insurance and to stay at the clinics until all patients are discharged.

It zipped through the House for first-round approval in eight minutes, with only one amendment. It didn't spark a peep from abortion-rights legislators who have staged hours-long fights in the past. "I was amazed no one questioned it," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Patrick O'Connor, D-Bridgeton. "I really can't figure out their strategy." One abortion-rights legislator said her side, which is outnumbered, isn't throwing up the white flag. Instead, her side is being choosier about the fights it wages, she said. "This wasn't something that people wanted to stand up and fall on the sword for," said Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City. "You have a donnybr ook, and then the votes turn out the same. If we need to be there for a bigger fight, we'll be there." House Speaker Steve Gaw, who favors abortion rights, met with key lawmakers in his office Tuesday night to map out strategy for the morning's debate. The consensus: Let it pass quickly so it doesn't absorb amendments that restrict abortion even further, said Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia. "We didn't want to open up a floodgate and end up with a much worse bill," said Harlan, who dislikes O'Connor's bill but kept mum. Abortion-rights forces expect O'Connor's bill (HB 1320) to be merged in the Senate with the caregiver bill - the most controversial anti-abortion bill to surface in recent years. Last year, the Legislature passed it, and Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed it. If the caregiver bill is tacked onto O'Connor's bill in the Senate, it must return to the House. Lawmakers on the abortion-rights side said they will be ready. "I know I'll get another shot at it," said Rep. Gary Witt, D-Platte City. The caregiver bill would require women seeking abortions to first meet with a state-certified counselor to learn about alternatives to abortion. Backers say it could reduce abortions by directing more women to childbirth and adoption. Opponents say it is another obstacle to women wanting abortions. …