Missouri Lawmakers Advance New Abortion Restrictions

By John Celock

The Republican-controlled Missouri House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would triple the state’s waiting period to get an abortion.

Lawmakers passed the bill 115-37 to mandate a 72-hour waiting period instead of the current 24-hour period. The vote followed an emotional debate where opponents said that the bill challenged women’s intelligence, while supporters said more thought is put into buying shoes and adopting a puppy than in getting an abortion. Lawmakers included an amendment to the bill that mandates that a woman also watch a state-approved video about abortion before the waiting period.

The Republican-controlled state Senate is due to take up a similar bill. Missouri currently only has one abortion clinic, which is located in St. Louis.

“You are saying she is not intelligent and can’t make a decision without your mandate,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis), a bill opponent, said during the House debate.

Supporters of the legislation said that women seeking an abortion needed increased time to think through the decision to end the pregnancy. They argued that since abortion ended a pregnancy, the matter was one of life or death.

“I personally believe that an abortion is more than a medical procedure. It is a matter of life,” state Rep. Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) said during the debate.

The bill would make Missouri one of three states that have a 72-hour waiting period on abortion. Utah and South Dakota have already implemented the three-day waiting period. Alabama lawmakers voted on Wednesday to increase their current 24-hour waiting period to 48 hours. Twenty states currently have 24-hour waiting periods before seeking an abortion.

Missouri currently requires women seeking an abortion to be given a packet of information about abortion and alternatives, including adoption before the waiting period kicks in. Under an amendment adopted by the House during Wednesday’s debate, women would also be required to watch a video containing the similar information to the packet.

Supporters of the amendment said that the video would allow women who cannot read or learn better from a video than reading to digest the information about abortions. Opponents questioned why the need for the video and also asked if the woman would be forced to keep her eyes open during the video. Supporters said that the seriousness of abortions would likely keep women from closing their eyes while watching the video.

The state health department would produce the video.

Supporters painted a picture of women spending more time on other decisions than on receiving an abortion. Rep. Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles) told her colleagues that people put more time into making a decision on what shoes or car to buy or the adoption of a puppy than the currently mandated 24 hour waiting period.

Opponents argued that women think through the decision before they even head to an abortion clinic.

“Women don’t discover they are pregnant when they seek an abortion,” Rep. Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) said. “Women consult with others when they make this decision. They consult their family and seek advice from them. They talk to their friends and their religious leaders. It is not a decision they take lightly. They give it thought.”

Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), an opponent, told his colleagues that the bill does not flow with Republican discussion over the need to stop government regulation in the state. He said he views the new waiting period and proposed video as increased regulation of the lives of Missouri residents.

Webber said that he supports regulations based in science, citing regulations banning arsenic in drinking water and the use of lead paint. He said that there is no science that supports the abortion-waiting period. He said that the abortion would still take place at the end of 72 hours.

“This regulation is a government intrusion in a person’s life. It is removing that ability. It is interjecting ourselves, this body into a life,” Webber said. “It is in fact a government regulation on a Supreme Court protected constitutional right.”

Opponents also argued that with the only abortion clinic located in St. Louis, the waiting period would cause women to take more time off work and spend money to stay in St. Louis until they could receive the abortion.

Supporters of the bill told a series of stories of the impact pregnancy has had on their lives. Several Republicans shared stories of their sons having unplanned pregnancies with their girlfriends and how it shocked them initially but they have experienced the joy of their grandchildren.

Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) told her colleagues about how the 72 hours following her son saying his girlfriend was pregnant helped her realize that it was a blessing for her family. She noted that when her second grandchild had suffered a stroke in the womb, the family realized quickly that they would continue the pregnancy and raise the child.

“When I got a call from my single son telling me I would be a grandmother. I was shocked,” Franklin said. “I taught Sunday school and was on the church board and I thought I needed to resign from those positions because I was a terrible mother. It took me 72 hours to realize it would be all right and I would not need to resign or put an announcement in the paper. We had a wedding and a beautiful granddaughter.”

Newman used her opposition speech to question her colleagues on why they would extend the period. She noted that woman – and men – have “anguish” from the current waiting period and in making a decision on having an abortion. She questioned why extend the period.

Newman also asked if her colleagues were prepared to implement a 72-hour waiting period to obtain a vasectomy in the state. She stressed the consequences the vote would have on Show Me State residents.

“The policies we debate and vote on in here have real life consequences,” Newman said. “We don’t live in a fairytale world where pregnancies are perfect.”