Health

Missouri Lawmakers Advance Bill That’s ‘Absolutely Cruel’ To Pregnant Teenagers

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A Missouri teen’s legal right to an abortion is becoming increasingly fictitious. Already faced with a series of difficult barriers — the state only has one abortion clinic, and imposes a variety of unnecessary hoops for patients to jump through — teenage girls may soon need to ask both of their parents about their decision to end a pregnancy.

A bill tightening Missouri’s parental notification laws passed the Missouri House of Representatives last week, and passed with enough votes to override a veto from Gov. Jay Nixon (D) — a tactic that has consistently allowed harsh anti-abortion legislation to pass the largely pro-choice governor’s desk. The bill still hinges on a Senate vote to become law.

Supporters of the bill say it would “foster conversations within families,” and prevent uninformed decisionmaking.

But reproductive rights proponents see this as just another hurdle created by anti-abortion lawmakers to further chip away at Missouri women’s rights. And in doing so, it could force teens to seek unsafe, illegal abortions — or simply go through with an unintended pregnancy — instead of confronting potentially dangerous and unsupportive parents.

State Rep. Genise Montecillo (D) said that for teens who lack the support of both parents, it’s an “absolutely cruel” requirement.

“For the lucky child who has one parent who believes them and is willing to advocate for them, and then to say they have to have both parents is cruel,” she said.

Lawmakers said that the proposed law would make exceptions if a parent is a sex offender or has been found guilty of child abuse — but only if it’s been ruled so in court. Many cases of sexual abuse within families go unreported.

Missouri is one of the 21 states that already requires at least one parent to consent to a minor’s abortion. If this bill becomes law, it will join three other states in requiring both parents’ approval.

These national bills, driven by Americans United for Life, the powerful pro-life organization behind most anti-abortion legislation, typically send teens to court if they want to bypass the parental consent requirement — in some cases, even if they’re the victim of sexual assault. In Alabama, where judges get to decide if a minor is “sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide on her own whether to have an abortion,” courts even appoint a lawyer to represent the girl’s fetus.

Jeffery Mittman, director of the ACLU of Missouri, said that legally forcing minors to tell their parents about a pregnancy, let alone their decision to seek an abortion, is uncalled for, and puts the most vulnerable teens at risk.

“We all want our daughters to come to us if they get pregnant, and the reality is that most do. We simply can’t legislate family relationships and, unfortunately, some teens can’t go to their parents,” he said. “No bill can account for every family dynamic that would lead a parent to decide that it is unsafe and unwise to involve the other in such a personal decision.”

In addition to the parental notification requirement, which state legislators have been fighting for for nearly two years, Missouri lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen other proposed abortion restrictions so far this year.