The OI Interview: Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr Part One

(Editor’s note: Because we want to provide the view of both sides of the aisle of the recent Missouri legislative session, we have been in contact with House Minority Leader Crystal Quade to provide her with the same opportunity to speak with us that we offered Speaker Haahr. She has said she is willing to do the interview, and we are currently working on an available date.)

The Ozarks Independent sat down with Republican Missouri Speaker Elijah Haahr to talk about the recent legislative session and the impact on the Ozarks by the laws passed and signed by Governor Parson. The interview will be in two parts, with Part Two being published tomorrow.

Ozarks Independent: How would you describe the most recent legislative session?

Speaker Elijah Haahr: I think in my seven years there it was the most successful policy session we’ve ever had. Obviously the pro-life bill, the three workforce development accomplishments, the road funding which is the first time since 1994 that we’ve done with new or increased road funding. Three different criminal justice reform bills, the agricultural bills, the tort reform bill we worked on for multiple years.

In my mind, we went through and did as many big ticket items as I’ve ever seen us do in one session.

OI: What would you point to as your biggest success in the session?

Haahr: Well, national events have conspired to make the pro-life bill the most important thing we’ve done.

OI: What would you personally say is the biggest?

Haahr: Personally, I think the work we did for Springfield, the $10 million funding for Missouri State, the $5 million for the advanced manufacturing center at OTC, and the first new circuit judge for Greene County since 1976. Those are things that I feel are game changers for the Springfield community.

When I was elected speaker in waiting, I said to the Springfield community if I was not able to help get Springfield on the same level as some of the other cities in the state, then I would consider myself a failure as a speaker. So to be able to get those things through, in my mind, are probably as big as anything else.

OI: What would you say was your biggest failure?

Haahr: The biggest failure this term, I really wanted to move the ball forward on education reform. I feel it would be really good for the state. You look at other states, Tennessee just passed a big education reform bill. Florida’s had really strong education reform. Strong public schools, strong charter schools.

I think that would have been the thing that if I’d been able to pass I would have wanted to do it but obviously we weren’t able to get to that point. Frankly, that’s been a frustration for the last few speakers of the house to move forward on that issue.

OI: All right, let’s jump into the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act.

Haahr: Let’s do it!

OI: Why was this so important to you and the [Republican] party?

Haahr: The funny thing is that we started the session thinking that was not going to be the most critical thing we were going to work on. Then with what happened in New York and Virginia, sort of created this national environment where it was critical for Missouri, who has always been a pro-life state, laid down a marker and said “this is where we’re going to be at.”

We’ve done pro-life bills in the past. We’ve done the 72-hour waiting period, we did the special session in 2017, so we’ve always been right there. But after what happened nationally, it was important for our caucus to take a step forward.

I worked with the bill’s three architects and we put together what is not only an aggressive bill, but also a comprehensive pro-life bill.

OI: Why no exceptions for rape or incest?

Haahr: A few things. First, I think there is a major discussion when we talk about abortion regarding when does life begin? We all, you and I, have Constitutional rights. You can’t take our life, liberty or property without due process. The question is, when does that right first attach?

And you can draw whatever line you want. You can say it’s conception, you can say it’s heartbeat, you can say it’s birth, but at some point, that life happens. Once you reach that line, regardless of how that child was conceived, that child has certain Constitutional rights.

Another thing that we did is that we included a medical emergency exception. We looked at case law around the country and found that in a lot of them. So we allow it for a medical emergency.

And we don’t ban abortion from birth, we ban it from eight weeks. That gives them eight weeks post a situation like that to decide if they want an abortion.

Make no mistake, rape is a terrible thing. If we could give rapists the death penalty, I’d be in favor of that. What I don’t want to do is give the product of that rape the death penalty and the rapist get away with a lesser offense.

OI: I have a list of some of the objections that opponents have to the bill and I’d like to throw them at you for your response.

Haahr: Sure.

OI: One of the objections is that many women don’t realize they’re pregnant until after eight weeks and thus would not have the chance to get an abortion.

Haahr: Obviously, there are some people who don’t realize they’re pregnant until the baby is born. It’s hard for us to build a subjective line in there. So we need an objective line and what we decided is that at eight weeks, that baby has unique DNA from the mother, unique heartbeat from the mother and unique brain activity from the mother. That’s when all the indicators of life are there and that’s why that’s where we drew the line.

OI: Another objection is that you’re trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Haahr: It’s not our goal to overturn Roe v. Wade. If it was, we would have just done what Alabama did and ban abortion at conception and create a legal fight. What we tried to do is look at case law around the country, places where they struck down and upheld legal objections, and then try to create a bill that could withstand those legal objections.

OI: Funny you mention legal objections, because the next complaint is that the law won’t stand up to Constitutional review and thus was a waste of the legislature’s time.

Haahr: Absolutely not. In fact, we just saw last week the Supreme Court uphold Indiana’s law regarding the disposal of aborted fetuses. The jurisprudence continues to change, people change, judges change. We continue to try and build something.

I think it’s also important to note there was a case that came out of Missouri years ago, Roper v. Simmons, that had to do with the death penalty for underage people. Seventeen year old that murdered someone who had been given the death penalty. The Supreme Court struck down the law under the “evolving standard of decency.” They talked how the United States and the world was moving in a particular direction.

What they looked at was the laws that the states were passing. So this law is Missouri trying to move the evolving standard of decency on the abortion debate. What we’re trying to show the courts is that the evolving standard of decency is toward earlier and earlier life. Sonograms, ultrasounds, 3D, 4D, science is showing us that life begins earlier and earlier. We just had a baby born recently 20 weeks, weighed 9 ounces, survived. That standard is getting earlier and earlier.

OI: What do say to the people who say the law is the state forcing religious views on people?

Haahr: It had nothing to do with religious views. In my mind, it has everything to do with science. Like I said, the ultrasounds, sonograms, science is showing life is earlier and earlier. I think we’re going to reach a point in my life that the day after conception that can be grown in a petri dish and all the way through and I think that’s just science.

OI: Another common complaint was that because of this law, women will not have to get dangerous, illegal abortions.

Haahr: First of all, women currently get dangerous abortions. The one remaining abortion clinic in the state is about to lose their license because it’s such a poorly run clinic. They’ve had 77 emergency room visits in the last few years because of women who have been having problems. If you look at the inspection reports of that clinic, it’s dirty facilities with all kinds of problems. In the current situation, women are getting very dangerous abortions.

OI: I want to read to you what Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said after the law was passed and get your response to it. She wrote, “Missouri law now requires people to remain pregnant against their will, treating them as little more than fetal incubators with no rights or role in the decision, even in the case of rape or incest.  We cannot long claim to be a free society when the heavy hand of government is used to crush individual liberty and subject us to the mandates of official state doctrine.”

Haahr: I think the most fundamental guarantee in our Constitution is the right to life. Once a baby is in my mind alive, which is at eight weeks when it has its own heartbeat, its own DNA and its own brain function, then we have to guarantee those Constitutional protections. We can’t take that away without due process because if we do, then the entire foundation of government that we have will begin to trouble.

OI: The state’s been inundated with flooding. What can the legislature do, if anything that hasn’t been done, to help stop the flooding?

Haahr: It’s a challenging situation because dealing with flooding usually comes from the executive branch or the federal government. We’ve had the emergency declarations and a lot of members of the legislature are doing things like sandbagging and like that.

Now, I do think we need to look at what the Army Corps of Engineers has done. Obviously a lot of the levees they set up are not doing the job. This is unique flood but I think the committee on government oversight is paying attention to see if we’ve done the things, has the state and federal government done the things, that put us in the best situation to respond.

Part two of this interview with House Speaker Elijah Haahr will be published tomorrow.