Coerced Abortion Bill Harms, Not Protects, Women

Pamela Merritt

The "coerced abortion" bill Missouri's House just passed devalues the women's intelligence and women's ability to make decisions about their own medical care.

Flowers are blooming, the temperature is rising and Missouri lawmakers are trying to work another anti-choice bill through the legislature.

It must be spring!

The Missouri House has approved House Bill 1831, which "changes the laws regarding the consent requirements for obtaining an abortion and creates the crime of coercing an abortion." As a Missouri native my initial reaction was to ask what this bill was in response to. I haven't noticed a flood of news stories about coerced abortions here and pro-choice is the antithesis of coercion. But, true to form, this bill is not in response to a rash of complaints by women who have been coerced into an abortion. Rather, House Bill 1831 (Senate Bill 1058) is about devaluing the intelligence of women and questioning our ability to make decisions about our medical care.

In the mythical Missouri represented in House Bill 1831, women are fragile gullible creatures that need to be protected from manipulative forces that seek for us to have an abortion we don't really want to have. Under the provisions of the bill a man who asks his partner to have an abortion is guilty of coercion even if his partner was not actually pregnant and never actually had an abortion. A business would be guilty of coercion simply for threatening to reduce a pregnant employees pay and/or cut that employee's benefits. Oh but wait, it gets better! A business would also be guilty of coercion for threatening to terminate the employment of a pregnant employee.

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Under House Bill 1831 schools would risk prosecution for coercion simply by threatening to revoke a pregnant woman's scholarship. Terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape would be considered coercion and physicians would face a felony charge for performing that abortion.

Pamela L. Sumners, Esq., Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, points out that the House Bill 1831 recently approved by the Missouri House was much better than what was originally proposed.

"Believe it or not, this bill is so much better than it was when first it was introduced. It made leaving or even attempting to leave one's pregnant wife because she did not want to have an abortion a crime, ditto with threatening twice (but not just once!) to move out under these circumstances, or calling a lawyer about separation papers under these circumstances, or telling her you don't want to be a daddy so she better hit the road if she doesn't have an abortion."

Sumners added that NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, Planned Parenthood, and domestic violence lobbyists worked very hard to strip the most constitutionally objectionable provisions from the bill.

"I want everyone to know how hard we work to keep the most utterly egregious provisions out of legislation. We still despise the glorious instrument you see today, of course. We do not like the premise of creating a crime of 'coercing' an abortion, although we at NARAL, like any other people of good taste and right reason, abhor the notion of coercion. We simply think that battery, assault, and stalking laws would adequately address any legally actionable "coercion" in this context."

House Bill 1831 (Senate Bill 1058) remains horribly flawed. The bill imposes personal investigative requirements on doctors requiring that they ascertain whether a patient seeking abortion services has an athletic scholarship that may be revoked or if she has been told her job will be negatively impacted if she is pregnant. A physician who fails to meet these investigative requirements will have committed a Class C felony.

What I find most alarming about House Bill 1831 is the creation of the crime of coercion. I can not imagine how this law would be enforced or how the legal system would determine that the law had been violated beyond a reasonable doubt. Add in the potential of false accusations and this mess just gets messier.

The Missouri Senate will soon take their version, Senate Bill 1058, under consideration. Given all that is wrong with this legislation, Missouri Senators should take this opportunity to lead by example and put an end to this insulting and unconstitutional nonsense.

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