Hi, Missouri. It’s me again. Long time, no talk.
Back in 2015, I reached out to you while you were in the midst of an anti-choice legislative frenzy. You tried to introduce more than 40 bills aimed at restricting abortion care for the people in your state, despite the valiant efforts of grassroots activists who live there.
(And by you, I mean your state legislature, but I’m going to just say “you” throughout this open letter—it’s nothing personal. It’s just that “anti-choice legislators in Missouri” is a mouthful.)
I didn’t hear back from you. So a few years later, I wrote you again. It was the fall of 2017. During the previous legislative session, you had introduced 35 bills, but managed to pass only one of them—and only after then-Gov. Eric Greitens (R) called a special session to jam it through.
Well, Missouri, it’s 2019 now, and I’m back with another wellness check. You OK?
I’m asking because you’re still tripping all over yourself to close your remaining abortion clinic and make reproductive care next to impossible to access. It’s not just Republicans, either. As Pamela Merritt wrote, just this year Missourians in Fenton elected an anti-choice Democrat. So that’s fun. (And by “fun,” I mean “terrible.”)
I just want to make sure you’re drinking enough water. Dehydration can affect your cognitive skills, you know. And this endless war on abortion tells me something is going on with you. So let’s talk about these bills that you’ve already introduced in the 2019 session.
First, there are the bills that criminalize abortion and “personhood” bills that seek to effectively ban it.
Rep. Jeff Pogue (R-Salem) introduced HB 789, which would charge any person who procures, performs, or even attempts to perform an abortion with a first-degree felony. The bill has no exceptions for the health of the pregnant person, or for victims of rape or incest. The bill was also introduced in 2017 and 2018, and failed both times. But you’re nothing if not relentless, so perhaps this could be the year that you charge not only abortion providers, but pregnant people, with first-degree murder. Wouldn’t that be grand?
And by “grand,” I mean “the worst.”
There’s also a “trigger law” (SB 345), sponsored by state Sen. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield), among others, and a nearly identical bill in the house (HB 1017). Both bills would end abortion in the state as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade—which, given the current conservative majority on the Court, is a real and frightening possibility. These trigger laws would criminalize providers, but not pregnant patients, so I guess you have all your bases covered. A separate so-called personhood law (HB 671) sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove), would grant all the constitutional rights that living, breathing people have to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses.
Meanwhile, you’re capitalizing on the current “born alive” frenzy that falsely posits that babies are being born and then murdered once outside the womb. There are two bills that purportedly protect “born alive abortion survivors”: SB 388 and HB 971. Of course, legal abortion care does not involve murder or infanticide, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about it. “Born alive” is also known as “born,” and doctors are required to care for babies that are born. You’re being ridiculous, Missouri.
Then there are the fetal “heartbeat ban” bills—four of them!
HB 126, SB 139, HB 964, and HB 870 would require physicians to conduct a test to determine whether a fetal heartbeat is present. If no heartbeat can be detected, three of these bills require that the pregnant person obtain an abortion within 96 hours (four days). If that four-day window passes, the patient must undergo another fetal heartbeat test. A heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks, which is long before most pregnant people even know they’re pregnant, so these bills operate as total abortion bans.
The sponsor of one of the house bills, Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), told a state house committee earlier this month that the limit would save lives and “curb the mental anguish many women suffer as a result of abortions.” On Tuesday night, the Missouri House passed the bill in a 110-37 vote, after voting to include a truly heinous number of other anti-choice amendments in the process. After one more roll-call vote, it’ll go to the Senate.
Setting aside the fact that studies show that 95 percent of people who get abortions don’t regret them, what about the mental anguish that pregnant people suffer as a result of wanting to get an abortion and being unable to obtain one? What about that, Nick? By the time most people realize their period is two weeks late, buy a pregnancy test, confirm the positive pregnancy test with a doctor, and decide to get an abortion, they would most likely be timed out of getting an abortion—especially because Missouri has a 72-hour waiting period requirement. And here’s a question: When is the heartbeat test supposed to take place? If it happens at a patient’s first visit to the doctor, they would still need to wait 72 hours, which would only give them a window of a single day to get the abortion before the 96-hour period is up. Given there’s only one clinic in the state, scheduling an appointment during that one-day window may be insurmountably difficult.
Even though no court has upheld a “heartbeat ban”—they’ve been struck down in North Dakota, Iowa, and Arkansas—I’m not surprised you’re jumping on that bandwagon.
Sen. Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester), the sponsor for one of the Senate versions of the bill, was clear in explaining why. Even though he told the Springfield News-Leader “there’s a good chance it gets struck down,” he continued, “if you find 30 to 40 states that pass something like this, the courts will take another look at it.”
And that’s the point, right, Missouri? That’s why you keep trying and failing year after year (after year after year) to pass clearly unconstitutional anti-abortion bills. Because constitutionality is determined by who sits on the Supreme Court bench. Right now, there’s a clear 5-4 majority of justices who have historically opposed abortion. Now that Anthony Kennedy is gone, abortion rights advocates look to Chief Justice John Roberts as the swing vote. Despite his surprisingly good vote in June Medical Services v. Gee—in which he sided with the liberal justices to stay Louisiana’s admitting privileges law while the case works its way through the Supreme Court appeals process—Roberts has never voted to strike down an anti-choice law. So there’s a good chance that your relentlessness will bear fruit, Missouri.
Moving on to 20-week bans. (Which are also unconstitutional, by the way.) You are still trying to pass a 20-week abortion ban—four of them, in fact—despite failing to do so in prior years. There’s HB 850, which Rep. Kathryn Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) introduced; SB 279, which Sen. Robert Onder (R-St. Charles) introduced; HB 339, which Rep. Adam Schnelting (R-St. Charles) introduced; and HB 680, which Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) introduced.
Rep. Schnelting told a house committee that permitting abortion up to 22 weeks, as Missouri currently does, is too long. He says that “science has advanced to such a point that we recognize unborn children at 20 weeks’ gestation can feel pain.” Except no—no it hasn’t, Adam. The medical consensus is that fetuses don’t feel pain until 24 weeks, according to Elizabeth Nash, the senior states issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. But don’t let facts get in the way of your desperate need to decimate reproductive autonomy based on junk science about fetal pain.
As for Rep. Coleman, she thinks the legislation doesn’t go far enough. But she says that at least it will prevent more abortions than the current law, according to the Springfield News-Leader. Silver linings, I guess.
Aside from the criminalization bills, heartbeat bans, and 20-week bans, you’re also still trying to make it more difficult for minors to obtain an abortion. Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Caldwell) and Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark) have introduced SB 106 and HB 127, respectively. Both bills would require both parents of a minor—not just one—to be notified before that minor can get an abortion.
Supporters of the bill think it’s important that minors discuss their abortion decision with both parents, since one parent might theoretically be coercing the teen into seeking an abortion. Of course, this ignores the fact that some teens who seek abortion are abused and neglected by their parents, so much so that Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri has called these sorts of bills “teen endangerment” bills.
You’re not totally oblivious to the needs of neglected teens, Missouri: The bills exempt notification requirements if the parent has had their custody terminated or their whereabouts are unknown, if they’ve been convicted of certain crimes or are listed on the sex offender registry, or if the parent is “habitually drunk or intoxicated” or “has been declared mentally incompetent or incapacitated.” (The bills don’t seem to acknowledge what happens if one parent is dead, but I presume it would count as “whereabouts unknown” rather than requiring teens to notify a ghost.) But here’s the thing, Missouri: There are plenty of teens whose parents don’t fit into those categories but who are nevertheless neglectful or abusive.
Speaking of pains in the ass, Rep. Sonya Anderson (R-Springfield) and Sen. Jeanie Riddle (R-10) have introduced bills—HB 282 and SB 420, respectively—that create an extra annoyance for pregnant people who have to go out of state to obtain an abortion. The bills require the same printed propaganda already given to in-state abortion patients to be provided, either in person or by mail, to patients who are referred out of state. That’s probably going to be most of them, given there’s only one clinic left in Missouri. Similar bills failed in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, but if at first you don’t succeed, try again, right? (And again, and again, and again.)
And then there are sex- and race-selective abortion bans, which anti-choice legislators have been desperately trying to pass for years. Rep Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) introduced HB 771 which prohibits abortions if the person seeking it is doing so because of the sex or race of the fetus, or because of a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. It didn’t pass in 2016, 2017, or 2018, but maybe the fourth time is the charm?
You also threw a tantrum in response to New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which anti-choicers are fearmongering as an infanticide bill. Sen Paul Wieland (R-Imperial) has sponsored a resolution (SCR 16) that “urges the cessation of economic activity with states like New York that have passed certain laws regarding abortion.”
Given your herculean efforts to keep your residents from accessing abortion care, one would think you’d be falling over yourselves to prevent unintended pregnancies. But nope. Legislators have even introduced a pair of bills that would reduce access to emergency contraceptives. SB 338 excludes emergency contraceptives from coverage under Missouri’s Medicaid program, and HB 787 prohibits pharmacies from selling emergency contraceptives over the counter.
So here’s what I want to know: What, I ask you, the fuck, Missouri? You’re just getting worse and worse. You’re still in a budget crisis and have been for years. Your governor is still refusing to expand Medicaid even though, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, more than half of Missourians want it. You’re an utter disaster when it comes to allowing pregnant people to make choices about their own bodies and to obtain necessary medical care, Missouri, and it’s driving me bonkers.
I really wish you would get it together and stop attacking the reproductive rights of pregnant Missourians, but I’m not optimistic. You know what they say: If wishes were pies, I’d be full for days.