Missouri is poised to join Utah and South Dakota to become third state to implement a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. With one abortion clinic left in St. Louis, the waiting period could effectively end access to safe, legal abortion in the state—which is exactly what right wing Missouri legislators wanted. (You may remember Missouri as the land that spawned former U.S. Representative Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” infamy.)
The bill, H.B. 1307, is now on the desk of Governor Jay Nixon, who is proof that the name "Democrat" isn't necessarily synonymous with "pro-choice." Over the last few years, to avoid taking a stand for women’s reproductive rights, he has “pocketed” abortion bill after abortion bill, and has the option to do so with this one—meaning that instead of signing the controversial legislation, Nixon, with only a couple days left in the session, could leave the bill in a drawer and, after 45 days, it will automatically become law.
This time may be different, however; it’s Nixon’s last term. If he has any national political aspirations in, say, being part of a Hillary Clinton administration (as is rumored), Nixon may want to go ahead and veto this bill. Upon its passage, he issued a indicating an inclination to do so:
House Bill 1307 will get the same comprehensive review given to all bills that reach my desk. However, it is clear that by failing to include an exception for rape and incest, this extreme proposal would separate Missouri from all but one other state in the nation. I have profound concerns about its impact on women and especially the victims of these heinous crimes.
The floor debates in both chambers of the Missouri legislature have followed the norm in the ongoing war on women. There have been the standard talking points: "protect life," "abortion is murder," in addition to advocacy for forced, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and on down the line.
But there are always a few, particularly offensive gems that bubble to the surface. For example, Representative Chuck Gatschenberger likened the waiting period, and the ultrasound that would be required under the bill before obtaining an abortion, to the "research" he does before buying a car.
Senator David Sater, co-sponsor of the 72-waiting period bill, said women should carry their “baby child” even if the fetus is a product of rape or incest. Coincidentally, Sater made the statement that women who don’t take the morning-after pill following sex that may result in a pregnancy are committing to taking a resulting pregnancy to term. (Even more coincidentally, Sater introduced a bill that allows pharmacists to refuse sale of the morning-after pill based on their own beliefs. )
But since these comments are made in the statehouse, insane arguments against women’s reproductive health are treated like informed commentary.
It’s even worse when the commentary comes from actual doctors. Rep. Keith Frederick, a surgeon, conflated statistics of abortion and suicide, saying that the former leads to the latter. When Rep. Judy Morgan asked Frederickson if he was making the argument about abortion linked to suicide as “causation or correlation,” the surgeon said, “I don’t know.” After that, according to a source, Frederickson dismissed his female colleague curtly.
But one statement was so far afield it deserves special attention. Missiouri House Speaker Tim Jones, who has his sights set on running for statewide office—he has reportedly taken a shine to the office of Attorney General—said this:
Time and time again show that states can reasonably protect life and the reason for that is that were to choose the opposite and we were to choose the opposite extreme and the state were not to choose to protect life, well, eventually the state would run out of citizens, it would run out of taxpayers, and the state would cease to exist.
This is the crackpot right-wing theory that there is a coming “demographic winter”—the dwindling of humankind to zero. After years of women’s liberation, the increasing entry into the workforce has led to a decline in childbearing, according to the winterists. The Sexual Revolution is viewed a big culprit, as well; embracing sex as recreation and not necessarily an act of procreation has made men less likely to seek marriage, according to this theory, ostensibly because of all the easy sex out there. Of course, abortion figures into this alarmist mix. Many of the “demographic winter” arguments are expressed through overseas examples: China’s one-child rule, and sex-selective abortions of female fetuses common in South Asia. Anti-choice propagandist Lila Rose even added this to her repertoire a few years ago.
Jones, a Republican, is co-sponsoring a piece of legislation known as the “conscience bill,” H.B. 1430, that indirectly affects abortion services. “This bill is intended to get more health-care workers to participate in our health-care industry, but give them the protections that they deserve so they don’t to check their religious beliefs or their conscience rights at the door.”
During the floor debate, Jones repeated the mantra of Missouri's anti-choice legislators: “I don’t think seventy-two hours—three days—is too much time to [consider whether to] bring another life into this world or not." Calls to Jones’ office and cell phone weren’t returned.
Keep your eyes on 2016 and the AG’s race in Missouri; keep your ears primed for the name Jones. He may be looking to cast himself as an anti-choice hero in the mold of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, whose law license was suspended for misconduct in a twelve-year investigation he launched against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park, and the Wichita abortion clinic then operated by Dr. George Tiller, who was later murdered.
In Missouri, there is currently a Planned Parenthood campaign encouraging people to call Gov. Nixon to demand that he veto the waiting-period bill. Even if the governor does veto it, the anti-choice forces in the legislature are believed to have the votes to overturn a veto, so the 72-hour waiting period will likely become law. Should that happen, reproductive rights advocates are expected to file a lawsuit to challenge the law. Courts in other states have granted permanent injunctions against waiting periods based on the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which bars states from imposing "an undue burden" on women seeking medical care.
Officials of Planned Parenthood of Missouri declined to comment on the possibility of launching lawsuit; Communications Director Laura Checkett said the organization was focusing on forcing Nixon to veto the bill.
“Planned Parenthood’s supporters across the state are counting on Governor Nixon to push back against the legislature’s extreme and intrusive agenda to undermine women’s health, and we’ll continue to make our voices heard,” said Ron Ellifrits, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, in a written statement.
When every state is a battlefield in the war on women, every state counts. The fate of reproductive justice in Missouri matters to every American woman.