Trust Women? Not in Missouri

Pamela Merritt

A bill passed in Missouri shows how ill-informed lawmakers are about state law, how little respect they have for women, and how little they actually know about real women’s lives.

On March 30 I listened through live audio stream as the Missouri House of Representatives voted to pass the 2010 Abortion Restriction Bill (HB1327/2000). This bill would create new, unnecessary restrictions on access to abortion services in Missouri to join the existing unnecessary restrictions already in place. The legislation also violates a woman’s constitutional right to make an informed decision about abortion.

The debate and vote took place on the same day that organizations opposed to abortion gathered in the state capitol for their official lobby day, so conditions pointed to a perfect anti-choice storm. The leadership, and many within the state legislative body are opposed to abortion, and those who support them in that opposition were on hand to cheer them on in their efforts to restrict access to abortion services in Missouri. There’s nothing like listening to elected officials debate whether women are capable of understanding a medical procedure and making a decision whether to have that procedure to clarify just how ill-informed those elected officials are about state law, how little respect they have for women, and how little they actually know about real women’s lives.

Here are some gems from the Missouri House debate. Representative Cynthia Davis (R-O’Fallon) said, “Abortion is a kind of domestic violence as well,” and went on to say that “women don’t naturally want to kill their offspring. Women who are loved, cared for and supported don’t mind having their own child.” Representative Pratt (R-Blue Springs) and Representative Nieves (R-Union) decided that anyone who voted against the bill was actively “protecting rapists.”

Contrary to the bizarre theme presented during the House debate, abortion is the most highly regulated medical procedure in Missouri. The facts about restrictions to abortion services in Missouri are clear. Under the current statute that has been in state law since 1979, “No abortion shall be performed except with the prior, informed and written consent freely given of the pregnant woman.The current law requires that at least 24 hours passes between the first visit to a clinic or doctor’s office and the time of the procedure, the patient confers with a treating physician who gathers and reviews information about the woman and relays information about the abortion procedure and any possible complications or risks.

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Some of the requirements include the following.

Prior to the procedure, the woman:

• Has a provider describe the specific abortion procedure and any risks involved to her;

• Has an ultrasound, is informed of the gestational age of the fetus, and is offered the option of viewing the ultrasound;

• Has necessary lab-work done, blood pressure checked, and a bi-manual (pelvic) exam conducted;

• Completes a medical history which is reviewed by trained staff and physician for completeness and clarity; and

• Speaks with staff specially trained to review all options when faced with an unintended pregnancy.

Specially trained staff will:

• Provide information, support and referrals as appropriate;

• Assist the woman in understanding the impact of the pregnancy on her current life situation;

• Help her identify and explore all of the options available to her—childbirth, adoption, or abortion—so she can make the best decision for her;

• Provide support and information to help her cope effectively with the emotional, social, and medical aspects of her situation;

• Make appropriate referrals for prenatal care, OB/GYN care, adoption and situation-specific counseling;

• Educate her about her related reproductive healthcare such as, birth control methods, pre- natal care, HIV and STI prevention and other appropriate concerns;

• Provide information and support as needed to ‘significant others’ who may accompany her;

• On the day of the procedure, conduct a pre-procedural interview to assess whether she is certain of her decision;

• Answer questions regarding risks, complications, and aftercare;

• Provide emotional support during the health care visit including before, during and after the procedure.

The 2010 Abortion Restriction Bill is chock full of ridiculous additional hurdles that will do nothing to reduce the number of abortions in the state of Missouri. It would require a doctor to report teens under 18 to the prosecuting attorney for the county in which the abortion procedure is to be performed if they seek an abortion, regardless of whether they actually obtain it, regardless of the fact that they have written permission from the parent, and regardless of the fact that doctors and nurses are already mandated to report abuse if it is suspected. Abortion providers would also be required to use brochures and videos developed by state bureaucrats rather than information developed by trusted medical organizations like the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology or the American Medical Association. These brochures must 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.” The bill would also create the new crime of ‘coercion of an abortion’ whether or not the woman actually seeks and obtains an abortion. And the 2010 Abortion Restriction Bill tells women who are survivors of domestic violence that they will be denied access to medical care if they reveal their circumstances and seek help.

In an amazing hypocritical twist, the Missouri House has wasted countless hours of the people’s time on legislation to “protect” Missourians from the federal government’s healthcare reform bill because they think government shouldn’t be involved in healthcare yet they voted to pass an abortion restriction bill that seeks to insert Missouri state government between patient and doctor. The anti-choice majority in the Missouri House is the very definition of inconsistent, but I guess the message is that government involvement in healthcare is okay as long as it involves denying women our reproductive rights and treating us like children. All eyes now turn to the Missouri Senate, where reproductive justice advocates are working hard to make sure this legislative insult does not become law.

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