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.

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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.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.