Beating Back the Storm of Anti-Choice Bills in the Show Me State

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Commentary Law and Policy

Beating Back the Storm of Anti-Choice Bills in the Show Me State

Pamela Sumners

In St. Louis, we’ve always said, “Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute. It’ll change.” Well, the weather is not changing in our floodwater-friendly capitol, where a torrent of anti-choice bills is raining down on our heads. It is simply foul.

How many fathoms deep would Mark Twain find the hypocrisy, grandstanding, saber-rattling, and thumb-twiddling about actual public business while gazing at ladies’ navels and netherparts that characterizes the 2014 Missouri General Assembly? Mark Twain might have to rechristen himself Mark “Deepwater Horizon” Twain.

Twain famously observed, “Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.” We knew there was a climate change with the Tea Party takeover of the Missouri General Assembly in 2010, but who can predict the weather? In St. Louis, we’ve always said, “Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute. It’ll change.” Well, we wish.

It’s not changing in our floodwater-friendly capitol, where a torrent of anti-choice bills is raining down on our heads. The weather is simply foul.

A supermajority that veto-proofs a governor heralds a grim barometric pressure. It winks its whirlwind eye at speaker Jones’ bill that would let your boss control your birth control—and, better yet, pretends that HMOs and insurers have corporate “consciences” to protect. (Who wouldn’t love to have the surgical skill to implant the first conscience in an HMO or insurance company, but that’s above my surgical skill or pay grade.)

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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It doesn’t matter that decades of law have determined that neither fetuses nor corporations are constitutional “people.” I could write you a con-law treatise on why my dog Bella, who eats her own fur, is smarter than courts and lawmakers who erroneously take the Citizens United case to give business owners license to foist their spiritual beliefs onto clock-punchers unfortunate enough to work for their shareholders’ commercial (not spiritual) profit. Even Bella is smart enough not to confuse a bad “free-speech” ruling involving a fistful of dollars with the animating spirit of the Constitution’s religion clauses or assume that for-profit corporations can be “religious” themselves, even if every one of its shareholders is an archbishop. It takes a caveman in a suit or judicial robes to out think my sagacious canine oracle Bella, and as noted, she eats her fur.

Our weather here in Missouri tries to blow in 72-hour waiting periods for abortion—as though women didn’t already have a trimester or two to “wait” or “reflect” on their choices about terminating a pregnancy.

The ill wind in Missouri’s inhospitable climate also presumes that all families are parented by benevolent, sepia-toned Ozzie Nelsons, when your actual daddy might be Ozzy Osborne in his bat-decapitation days pre-rehab. But here’s a weather bulletin for the general assembly: Some pregnant girls scan the skies for storm-cloud parents who might beat them up, kick them out of the house, or worse. That hasn’t stopped the general assembly from pushing a bill to require the consent of both parents to a minor child’s abortion, when we have a judicial bypass law precisely because we know that healthy family communication cannot be legislated. That hasn’t stopped the general assembly from plans to legislatively eavesdrop on kitchen table or pillow talk to see if a parent “attempted” to “coerce” the mother of a minor child to abort that child years ago, for purposes of custody determinations.

That’s the weather—”wait a minute” in the whole of Missouri. And it won’t change as long as the climate confers on pro-choicers only 40 to 41 of 163 votes in the House of Representatives. We have overwhelming domination by anti-choice officials and not one single Republican vote in either general assembly chamber. We have six or seven of our 34 senators standing with us on that cold floor, knowing that urban representation is swamped by giant swaths of red country and knowing that term limits and gerrymandering will deliver the expected climate.

Our small numbers mean that our few friends get assigned to multiple committees, some of them involving weighty matters like the budget and where that budget gets cut for needy Missourians. Increasingly, in an effort to pander to the press, party bosses, or the legislative scorecards of Right to Life, competing hearings on anti-choice bills are scheduled for the same hour, too, in different committees. This forces our friends to choose where they should go, not based on their principles or their loyalty to ideals like women’s autonomy and dignity, but rather on where they can exercise the most influence to prevent the most harm. This calendar is engineered by folks who think pro-choice people “coerce” abortions. They ought to know something about the subject.

Our activists find themselves in similar straits. We have to choose, after traveling hours, whether to attend a hearing on a 72-hour waiting bill or a bill to fund pernicious crisis pregnancy centers, or a bill that pretends that a corporation could be Jesus or Buddha because its conscience is so pure. We face identical bills filed in the same chamber and assigned to different committees, to consume time, waste resources, and serve individual political interests.

We face committee chairs who muzzle Missouri by alternating witnesses on anti-choice bills tit-for-tat, so that the outlandish lies of anti-choice witnesses cannot be exposed by the truth batting clean-up when every last liar citing bogus statistics, misstating legal standards, and bloviating about abortion causing trauma, homicide, suicide, infertility, divorce, and breast cancer has mumbled his insupportable conclusions. We have committee chairs limiting testimony to three minutes per witness while larding dockets with way more bills than the hearing time allotted will allow—hardly conducive to rebuttal of lying lies and the lying liars who tell them. All this occurs while Missouri law demands no more than a day’s notice of hearings to satisfy the Sunshine Law. This serves someone’s interest, but not citizens’.

My dog Bella would be straining at her muzzle by now, in protest of this dog-and-pony show. I hear the word “transparency,” and because I work for women and families in Missouri, where two-thirds or more of either chamber is anything but transparent in exercising power, and I just brace for the next gust of Orwell blowing in.

How high is the water, Mama? Five feet high and rising. 

We are tracking dozens of anti-choice bills. If we tread water long enough, we will stop almost every one of them. Come hell or high water, we will. We always do, and in Missouri, that’s what beating the storm looks like.