It’s time for an update on the status of reproductive health legislation in Missouri, so here’s the good, the bad and the ugly! Two key pieces of legislation have become law and will go into effect toward the end of August – the 2010 Abortion Restriction Law (SB 793) and a prevention law (HB 1375) promoting Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) and education about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). As reproductive justice advocates wade through the new cumbersome and unnecessary restrictions on abortion services and prepare to implement EPT, let’s look at what just happened and what it means.
As a reproductive justice activist in Missouri, I spent this session waiting for an abortion restriction bill. Faces and names may change in the Missouri legislature, but legislative attempts to restrict access to abortion services remain an unfortunate constant. In the 2009 legislative session, reproductive justice advocates were able to defeat anti-choice legislation. That was not the case in the 2010 session, where we saw the 2010 Abortion Restriction bill pass into law.
With the 2010 Abortion Restriction Law, Missouri adds more restrictions on access to abortion to the more than 30 restrictions already on the books. Abortion is the most regulated medical procedure in Missouri. The 2010 Abortion Restriction Law establishes new restrictions on access to abortion and forces women to receive state-mandated materials that contain ideological messages aimed at causing emotional distress. These statements are not widely agreed-upon by physicians and are not medically accurate. The 2010 Abortion Restriction Law also requires abortion providers to display a statement that promises state-funded assistance to women if they carry the pregnancy to term, which is particularly insulting because Missouri’s budget constraints have forced the state to cut many of the promised services and there will likely be even more cuts next year.
The 2010 Abortion Restriction Law contains unnecessary and duplicative changes to the informed consent process that is already in place, which already includes a 24 hour delay after consent, and requires women to undergo the informed consent process “in the physical presence” of a qualified professional. This specific restriction is a significant burden to women who must travel hundreds of miles to receive health care in Missouri, due to the lack of abortion providers in the state and region.
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Basically, the 2010 Abortion Restriction Law plants yet another legislative hurdle in front of women attempting to access abortion services and mandates that those women receive medically inaccurate propaganda designed to promote emotional distress and shame while they scale that legislative hurdle.
As bad as the 2010 Abortion Restriction Law is, reproductive justice advocates worked hard to remove language that would have created the new crime of coerced abortion. They were also able to work in language that contains an improvement in the informed consent process so that women may now have access to qualified professionals including social workers, nurses and licensed counselors to help them through the cumbersome informed consent process. Even so, when the Missouri legislature passed the 2010 Abortion Restriction bill some wondered whether Missouri’s pro-choice Governor would veto the legislation. But the Missouri Legislature, which had just blatantly pandered to anti-choice forces by passing the 2010 Abortion Restriction bill, was not going to turn around and sustain the Governor’s veto.
Pamela Sumners, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, had this to say about the new law.
“The pro-choice community is in a posture of continual retreat because political parties don’t have values in the same way that interest groups have values. This is why we need interest groups–our instinct isn’t to compromise even if political parties compromise women away all the time. The problem here isn’t with Governor Nixon. Politically, he did the best thing he could do, and the best thing for the pro-choice women of Missouri, too–because he knows, like we know, that we don’t have the votes in the General Assembly to sustain a veto if he had done it. We have no bitter words for him. We reserve those for a political process that nurtures polarization and keeps 50 percent of the population in a perpetual choice between the lesser of two evils, when all of humanity is better than the choices our institutional actors serve us. We are all inhabiting an atmosphere in which a court of law that governs Missouri cannot see that there is something wrong in forcing clinics to post the statement that life begins at conception and a woman who has an abortion is terminating a “living human being.” We’re not going to change any court or any legislative outcome until we have political leaders at the very, very top who believe to their souls that no party embraces the Confederate flag in 2010 as a way to win elections, and no party gets to tread on women for political expediency. And it’s not the governor I’m talking about. It’s the people who advise everyone lining up in every Missouri House race to run anti-choice even if they’re not. How on earth can anyone corral those horses once they’re out of the barn?”
I’ve often felt that some Missouri Democrats suffer from an identity crisis when it comes to reproductive justice, choosing to bob and weave on the issue rather than stand strong in support of the Democratic Party platform that supports reproductive choice and abortion rights. Missourians need our elected officials to cease pandering to anti-choice groups and begin supporting proven prevention measures that will actually reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.
The 2010 Missouri legislative session provided us with an example of how state government should work when prevention legislation became law with the passage of HB 1375. HB 1375 promotes Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) and education about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Missouri legislators worked together to pass this important legislation that will allow a patient diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) to receive a prescription to treat that STI for their partner too. With re-infection rates for STI’s high this is a proactive step forward and a demonstration that, when politicians put the people’s interests ahead of the interests of anti-choice groups, empowering legislation can pass into law.
Missouri state legislators have proven that they can and will set aside the best interests of their constituents to pander to the whims of anti-choice groups. But those same state legislators also demonstrated that they are capable of crafting and passing reproductive health legislation that promotes prevention and education. They can do the right thing for Missourians and support legislation that promotes reproductive health care. The question remains whether Missouri legislators will do the right thing in 2011.