In a public hearing about a bill in Missouri that would force women to wait three days before being allowed to proceed with an abortion, the sponsor of the proposed legislation suggested that decisions about ending a pregnancy need to be considered for the same amount of time as decisions about purchasing a car or remodeling a home. After his female colleagues expressed dismay, he later apologized for that analogy.
In order to explain the intent behind his bill, Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger (R) recounted a personal story about recent decisions that involved big purchases. He said that he recently visited a car lot and didn’t purchase a car immediately, and that he took a month to decide about whether to install new carpet in his home.
“Even when I buy a new vehicle — this is my experience — I don’t go right in there and say, I want to buy that vehicle, and, you know, leave with it,” the lawmaker, whose comments were recorded by Progress Missouri, said. “I have to look at it, get information about it, maybe drive it, check prices. There’s lots of things I do going into a decision — whether that’s a car, whether that’s a house, whether that’s any major decision that I make in my life. Even carpeting. You know, I was just considering getting carpeting in my house. That process probably took a month… I wanted to be as informed as possible, and that’s what this bill is, having them get as much information as possible.”
Gatschenberger’s legislation would triple the current waiting period for the women in the state who want to have a legal abortion. They’ll be required to make an initial trip to a clinic, receive information about the risks of abortion — including scientifically inaccurate information about abortion’s link to breast cancer — and then wait 72 hours before returning the clinic to have the actual procedure. When it was first introduced, it sparked considerable protest, and activists rallied around a #wait72hours hashtag to make the point that women can be trusted to make their own decisions.
And at Tuesday’ hearing, Gatschenberger’s colleagues didn’t hesitate to push back on his analogy. Rep. Stacey Newman (D) asked him if he really believed buying a car is in any comparable to women’s personal medical decisions. “Your comments were extremely offensive to every single woman sitting in here. I want to point that out, because that kind of attitude is demeaning to women, regardless of what they decide to do,” Newman said.
“That was not my intent. I apologize for that,” Gatschenberger responded.
Newman, who chairs the Progressive Caucus, told ThinkProgress that she was offended by the analogy because it came across as “very flippant” about the legislation’s effect on women. “We’re making policy for women throughout the state,” she said. “I’ve heard personal stories from them — and from my daughters, my granddaughters — and I’m seeing those women’s faces. It’s not as if they put no thought into what can be the hardest decision of their lives.”
The research in this area backs her up. Studies have found nearly 90 percent of women are “highly confident” about their choice to end a pregnancy before ever approaching a doctor, and mandatory waiting periods don’t do anything to sway them. And women who choose abortion overwhelmingly say it was the right choice for them.
Gatschenberger told ThinkProgress that it was “the wrong example to use,” noting he acknowledged that at least three times during the hearing.
The Missouri legislature has been particularly intent on attacking reproductive rights during this legislative session. Lawmakers have introduced more than 30 different anti-abortion bills — more than nearly any other state in the country so far this year. And since there’s just one sole abortion clinic left in the entire state, all of that legislation is seeking to regulate a single facility.
Women’s health advocates in the state are fighting back. Hundreds of activists rallied in front of the state capitol on Tuesday, displaying signs like “If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?” and “Women’s lives matter.” They’re demanding that Missouri lawmakers stop “playing politics” with women’s health, which includes ceasing to introduce abortion restrictions and agreeing to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion.
“There isn’t just one bill that we’d like to see defeated. We’d like to see all of the more than thirty bills hostile to women’s health defeated,” Ryann Summerfield, the statewide manager of government affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, explained to ThinkProgress. “If the legislature is truly concerned with protecting the health of women, it should be by expanding Medicaid for the 260,000 Missourians who are going without affordable health care.”