Missouri’s Southern Baptist governor has signed into law a bill that adds new restrictions to abortion clinics and bars groups that provide abortion services, like Planned Parenthood, from participating in sex-education instruction in public schools.

The bill also makes permanent Missouri’s Alternatives to Abortion Program, which provides state-funded grants to pregnancy centers that encourage women to give birth instead of have abortions.

In a Friday signing ceremony at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., Gov. Matt Blunt called House Bill 1055 “one of the strongest pieces of pro-life legislation in Missouri history.”

The bill accomplishes three objectives “that have eluded the pro-life community for years,” said Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, who sponsored the bill. “It gets abortion providers out of our public school classrooms as sex educators, adds safeguards for women’s health by regulating all abortion clinics in the state, and codifies in statute the Alternatives to Abortion Services Programs that have been funded through the appropriations process for the last several years.”

The bill, which goes into effect Aug. 28, prohibits school districts and charter schools from “providing abortion services or allowing a person or entity who provides abortion services from offering, sponsoring or furnishing course materials related to human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.” It also allows school districts the option of providing abstinence-only sex education.

It redefines “ambulatory surgical center” to include any organization that performs second- or third-trimester abortions or performs five or more first-trimester abortions per month. A Planned Parenthood lobbyist told the Associated Press the new law could prompt renovations costing as much as $2 million at its Columbia clinic, which performs 600-700 abortions a year.

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood said the group’s lawyers will need more time to study the law before deciding whether to challenge it in court.

While the sex-education restrictions and added regulations for abortion clinics attracted more attention, pro-life groups said the biggest impact could be making permanent the Alternatives to Abortion Program.

“In the Carnahan years, abortion providers were allowed to access funds that pro-life legislators had budgeted for Alternatives to Abortion,” Sander said. “Now there is a clear destination program for such funding and women facing crisis pregnancies will benefit because of that.”

Available since 1994 but now part of state law, the program offers medical and mental-health services, job training, food, housing, clothing and other services to women during pregnancy and the year following a child’s birth.

The program had $570,000 when Blunt won office in 2004. It has grown to $1.7 million in the current budget.

Blunt, a member of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., has previously pledged to “stand up for the sanctity of life” in supporting bills like a conscience clause allowing pharmacists to be exempt from filling prescriptions for “morning-after” birth-control pills.

In a speech to the Missouri Baptist Convention in 2005, Blunt said his desire was to counter the “pro-death” message engendered by “Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and activist judges.”

Blunt’s relationship with Missouri Baptists hasn’t been all rosy, however. The state convention’s general counsel wrote an open letter to the governor in 2005 calling on him to reconsider his support for stem-cell research.

Blunt, 36, the nation’s youngest governor and the first Republican governor to take office with a Republican legislature in Missouri in 84 years, is the son of House Minority Whip Roy Blunt and his first wife, Roseann Blunt.

After divorcing his first wife after 35 years of marriage, the elder Blunt, former president of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., married a Phillip Morris lobbyist in 2003. Last year the couple adopted an 18-month-old child from Russia.

“We here at Concord Baptist Church have prayed, preached, worked, and gone to the polls so that the lives of precious little ones may be saved,” Monte Shinkle, senior pastor at Concord Baptist Church, said in press release last Friday from the governor’s office.

“This is legislation that we can celebrate,” Shinkle said. “House Bill 1055 will result in fewer abortions in Missouri. It is a good fair law that makes sense. I am excited to host Governor Blunt as he signs this progressive piece of legislation.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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