CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
As state legislatures practically trip over each other to see which one can pass the most stringent abortion restrictions in first few months of 2014, Missouri is pulling into the lead. The state is currently considering 32 different anti-choice bills. And, since there’s only one abortion clinic left in Missouri, all of that legislation will end up targeting a single reproductive health facility.
Missouri lawmakers are currently advancing several stringent measures that are capturing most of the media attention. One bill would triple the mandatory waiting period for abortion, forcing women to wait 72 hours before proceeding with the legal medical procedure. Another would require the state’s lone abortion clinic to undergo four inspections every year.
But those are hardly the only abortion restrictions up before the legislature. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Missouri has introduced more anti-abortion bills than nearly every other state in the country so far this year. The majority of the proposed laws are specifically focused on restricting and regulating the abortion clinic remaining in St. Louis.
In addition to the increased inspections, lawmakers are also trying to require abortion providers to follow more detailed ultrasound procedures and provide additional financial documentation. One bill would require doctors to show their patients a state-mandated video about the risks of abortion after performing the required ultrasound. Other measures would make it more risky to practice abortion care in the state by increasing criminal penalties for medical malpractice.
On the other hand, some of the bills — like the extended waiting period — focus on targeting the women who choose to have abortions. One measure that just passed the House would make it more difficult for a minor to end a pregnancy, requiring her to notify both of her parents five days before the procedure and get explicit consent from one of them.
Anti-choice lobbyists in the state are pursuing this piecemeal strategy because they hope it will be more effective than introducing an omnibus package containing several abortion restrictions. Susan Klein, the top lobbyist at Missouri Right to Life, told the Washington Post that omnibus legislation has fallen short in previous years, and she’s hoping to win over lawmakers on separate specific issues.
Some GOP lawmakers agree. “I think there’s some concern that Missouri is not doing enough to protect life,” Rep. Stanley Cox (R) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointing out that not very many anti-abortion bills have cleared the Senate recently.
But reproductive rights advocates are criticizing lawmakers for wasting their time, pointing out that over-regulating a single abortion clinic isn’t the right way to keep women healthy. Abortion is already the most regulated medical procedure in Missouri.
“This is about politics, not about women’s health,” Peter Brownlie, the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a recent statement. “The Missouri Legislature has already spent way too much time attacking women’s health instead of focusing on the right priorities, like increasing access to health care through Medicaid expansion.”
Nonetheless, the Republican lawmakers in the state are willing to pull out all the stops to make sure these measures pass. Senate floor leader Ron Richard (R) has indicated that he’ll use a rare procedural move to shut off debate from his Democratic colleagues and force a final vote on the 72-hour waiting period. Approving this measure could end up inadvertently ending abortion in Missouri, because women in the state may choose to travel to Illinois, which doesn’t have a three-day waiting period.