Missouri Governor Vetoes 72-Hour Waiting Period Bill

Increasing the state’s waiting period from 24 to 72 hours was one of state Republican lawmakers' top priorities during the legislative session. Only two states, Utah and South Dakota, require a 72-hour waiting period.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon WikiMedia Commons

Republican Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have tripled the current time that women are required to wait before terminating a pregnancy in the state. The move was not unexpected, as Nixon had previously released a statement saying that he had “profound concerns about its impact on women and especially the victims of these heinous crimes.”

Increasing the state’s waiting period from 24 to 72 hours was one of state Republican lawmakers’ top priorities during the legislative session. Only two states, Utah and South Dakota, require a 72-hour waiting period.

In a statement, Nixon criticized the legislation as “extreme and disrespectful.” Nixon specifically cited the lack of an exemption for victims of rape and incest, and the fact that the state already has a 24-hour waiting period law in place. “Lengthening the already extensive waiting period serves no demonstrable purpose other than to create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make,” said Nixon.

Supporters of the bill blocked all amendments that would have added an exception for victims of rape or incest. During the floor debate, bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Elmer (R-Nixa) spoke against exception. “For me, even though that tragic situation may occur, I still believe that God is at work in this world and that he’ll let bad things happen and he doesn’t cause it,” said Elmer.

The veto is somewhat of a departure from Nixon’s positions on reproductive rights over the course of his career. A 2010 bill mandating ultrasounds, a 2011 bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, and a 2013 bill restricting the use of medication abortion all became law as Nixon declined to sign or veto the bills.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that the new legislation is about politics, not women’s health. “Governor Nixon has shown that he understands that extreme politicians can’t be allowed to interfere with a woman’s ability to get an abortion just because they disagree with her decision,” Dalven said.

“This bill was extreme and dangerous, and it would have interfered with personal medical decisions that women must be able to make with their doctors. Politicians in Missouri pushed this bill through in the dead of night, over the objections of the people they’re supposed to represent, and we’re grateful that Governor Nixon vetoed it,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

State Sen. David Sater, (R-Cassville) said he would seek an override at the veto in September. Abortion “is an irreversible and permanent decision, and taking the time to think about the consequences is not unreasonable or a burden,” Sater said in a statement.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, (R-Eureka) told St. Louis Public Radio that over the course of the next few months supporters of the legislation will discuss a possible override of Nixon’s veto. “I will be discussing this matter with my colleagues, and we will be revisiting this issue in September during veto session,” said Jones.

The bill was just one in an avalanche of anti-choice pieces of legislation in the Missouri legislature this year. At least 32 bills were introduced this year that would restrict access to reproductive health care, with supporters often justifying the regulations as protecting women’s health. Most of the legislation is aimed at regulating the state’s only abortion clinic, with the goal of eliminating all safe, legal abortion services in the state.

If supporters of the legislature were to seek a veto override, they would need a two-thirds vote in both the state house and senate. While the house passed the bill with a 111-39 vote, which is two votes more than needed for an override, the senate passed the bill with a 22-9 vote, which is one vote shy of what’s needed for an override. In May, Missouri Republicans held a successful vote to override Nixon’s veto of a tax cut, but it is uncertain if they could replicate that effort.