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Missouri’s already severe abortion restrictions could get even worse

“This isn’t about having children. It’s about controlling women.”

Abortion rights activists hold signs as they stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol, Sept. 10, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo. CREDIT: AP/Jeff Roberson
Abortion rights activists hold signs as they stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol, Sept. 10, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo. CREDIT: AP/Jeff Roberson

Missouri is one of the most restrictive states for abortion access in the country. There is only one abortion clinic in the state, people must wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion, and private insurance policies and health plans offered under the state exchange only cover the procedure if the woman’s life is endangered, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Only five other states in the country have 72-hour waiting periods.

But Missouri’s abortion restrictions may become even more strict, now that the legislature is considering a bill that would give its attorney general the power to enforce any abortion law, overturn a St. Louis ordinance that protects people from discrimination in housing and employment based on their reproductive decisions, and allow the state health department to conduct unannounced inspections of abortion clinics.

The bill passed the Senate and the House, but will go back to the Senate after the House made several changes. Alison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said the resistance to the St. Louis ordinance, as well as lawmakers’ choice to push a bill criminalizing prenatal drug use, is proof that many Missouri lawmakers care more about “control, and shame, and harming women’s health.”

“We do door-to-door canvassing and we came across a woman who was fired for taking too much time off after miscarriage, so that was certainly why we pushed the ordinance,” Dreith said. “But this is also a devastating reminder of just how much control some people want to have over women. This isn’t about having children. It’s about controlling women.”

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“We’re all wondering if this special session bill gets passed, especially when it includes language to give our attorney general authority to enforce abortion laws in our state, if that would make us the most restrictive state in the country or not,” Dreith added.

Missouri Republicans are also still pursuing 20-week abortion bans, about two weeks less than the state’s current limit, and a bill that would require parental consent for someone under the age of 18 to receive an abortion.

Lawmakers may end up ditching the bill because they’re more concerned about the imposition of a special session than they are about controlling women’s reproductive care. Last week, Gov. Eric Greitens (R) called lawmakers back into a special session because he said it was urgent for lawmakers to respond to a federal judge’s ruling that struck down state regulations requiring abortion providers to get specific hospital admitting privileges. The regulations were similar to a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year.

But a bipartisan group of senators is not interested in having another special session and said the broader abortion issue does not need to be handled immediately.

“I don’t think we should be here. “It’s certainly clear the governor doesn’t have any respect for this process,” Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, told the Kansas City Star.

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Dreith said that although the bill has the votes to go through, lawmakers may wait to pick up the bill in January. A bipartisan group of six senators called for an investigation of the governor this month and said they want a list of his campaign donors. In addition to the criticism of the governor, the House’s actions delayed legislation.

“I think that because the Senate worked hard on compromises and the House kind of blew that up and is making the Senate come back to conference now to have another hearing on what they’ve passed, I think it would behoove even people who don’t stand on the same side with us to end this wasteful special session,” Dreith said. “They certainly are not going to side with Missouri women, but I think there is something deeper happening here, that they believe the governor is really hijacking their interim, and ‘How many more is he going to call?’”