Missouri’s Lawmakers Keep Busy Restricting Women’s Choices

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Missouri’s Lawmakers Keep Busy Restricting Women’s Choices

Pamela Merritt

There was a flurry of productivity in the last days of the Missouri legislative session.  Sadly, all it produced was many more abortion restrictions.

Twas the last week of the session and all through the Missouri Legislature, anti-choice legislation was stirring, particularly in the House. 

When the 2010 Session of the Missouri Legislature closed at 6pm Friday May 14, the Abortion Restriction Bill had been voted on and passed.  A pharmacy denial amendment that would have protected pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions or sell over-the-counter birth control failed to pass, but over 100 Missouri Representatives voted in favor of it in the House.  On a positive note, the Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) bill was also passed – this law will allow doctors to write prescriptions for a person’s partner if that person is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection without the partner having to come in for a separate appointment.  Even as reproductive justice advocates celebrate the EPT victory, they must now analyze the additional restrictions to abortion services contained in the Abortion Restriction Bill to determine what new hurdles women will have to jump to access abortion services in Missouri.

Missouri legislators began the 2010 session with a lot on their to-do list.  Missouri, like many states, is facing a budget crisis and legislators were charged with the task of determining what funding to cut and how deep the cuts would be.  Funding to many social services, already cut back during previous legislative sessions, received additional painful cuts during the 2010 session.  At the beginning of session, leaders of the Republican majority promised to prioritize legislation that would create jobs and stimulate the economy.  However, they wasted valuable time debating resolutions denouncing federal health care reform and pandering to anti-choice advocates during this election year. 

After the final bell rang and the dust settled, legislators had failed to pass a single jobs bill.  Judging from the fruits of their legislative efforts, it is clear that many in the Missouri Legislature have the wrong priorities and are not afraid to pursue them at the expense of taxpayer funding and the people’s time.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Perhaps they were seduced by the opportunity to demonstrate their anti-choice loyalty during an election year, but this session seemed to bring out the worst in anti-choice legislators.  While debating the Abortion Restriction Bill, Representative Bryan Pratt (R-55) accused his pro-choice colleagues of supporting rapists.  Although legislation ultimately did not pass, over 100 members of the Missouri House voted to protect pharmacists that refuse to fill prescriptions or to sell over-the-counter birth control.  During the session Representative Cynthia Davis, Chair of the Children and Families Committee, refused to take up child protection bills because she felt her committee’s “main purpose is to deal with abortion issues.”  A total of 8 anti-choice and anti-birth control initiatives received hearings and/or votes.  In comparison, only 2 pro-prevention initiatives moved and only one, the Expedited Partner Therapy bill, passed.

It is worth noting that the passage of the Expedited Partner Therapy bill marked the first time in 9 years that a pro-prevention bill passed out of the Missouri legislature. 

It is also worth noting that, prior to passage of the Abortion Restriction Bill, abortion was already the most regulated medical service in Missouri.  I find it particularly disturbing that legislation alleged to provide women with more information about abortion services is packed with mandates requiring the posting of inaccurate information and false promises that border on state mandated fraud.  The Abortion Restriction Bill that passed last week requires abortion providers to use brochures and videos developed by state bureaucrats rather than trusted medical organizations like the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology or the American Medical Association. The bill mandates that these brochures prominently display the statement “the life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”  There is no medical or legal reason for that statement other than to shame women seeking abortion services. 

The Abortion Restriction bill requires abortion clinics to post signs that promise state-backed assistance should a woman carry a child to term and assistance in caring for that child once born.  These promised services include health care, housing, transportation, food, clothing, education, and job training.  Given the fact that the Missouri legislature slashed funding to most of the programs that would have provided those services, those claims and promises aren’t worth the poster-board they will be printed on.

Despite statements to the contrary made during debate of the Abortion Restriction Bill, existing state and federal law already prohibits public funds for abortion services or coverage except in cases of rape, incest (federal) or life endangerment.   The Abortion Restriction Bill expands Missouri’s existing ban on private insurance policies from covering abortion and prohibit individuals or employers from purchasing abortion coverage with private funds – even in cases of rape, incest and severe fetal anomalies.  It boggles the mind that, after spending half the legislative session shouting about how wrong government involvement in health care is, Missouri legislators then ended the 2010 session by passing a bill that plants state government between women and their doctors and even goes so far as to tell Missourians what health care services they can or can not purchase with their own money!

On the last day of the 2010 session I listened live to debate on the Abortion Restriction bill, hoping against hope that reason and decency would somehow find purchase on the floor of the Missouri House.  One of the precious few pro-choice legislators in the Missouri Legislature, Representative Beth Low (D-39), explained to her colleagues that the Abortion Restriction Bill would create a climate of shame and establish new burdens to women seeking the legal medical service of abortion.  I wondered if her colleagues would finally hear her and understand that their actions have real consequences in the lives of women in Missouri and the many border states from which women travel to access abortion services here.  I continued to hold out hope until Representative Emery (R-126) rose and spoke in favor of the bill.  Emery vaguely acknowledged that passage of the bill would make it more difficult for women to access abortion services and that some women would be burdened by the new restrictions or face hardships from having to scrounge together even more money and/or drive more hours back and forth from their homes to clinics.  But then Emery went on to say that if the burdens resulting from the new restrictions resulted in more babies being born he was okay with that and didn’t think that was really a big deal. 

The Speaker then cut off debate and a majority of Representatives swiftly voted to pass the Abortion Restriction Bill. 

It was all over before lunch, the legislation passed and women’s reproductive rights had been restricted before most folks finished their second cup of coffee.

Something tells me the Representative Emery’s of the world don’t think that’s a big deal either.

Meanwhile, reproductive justice advocates and abortion providers are carefully reviewing the legislation to determine what their next steps will be.

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