New Missouri law requires abortion physicians to meet patients three days before their procedure

A person's right to a safe abortion procedure is tethered to zip code.

Abortion-rights supporters Dina van der Zalm, right, and Allyson Junker stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Abortion-rights supporters Dina van der Zalm, right, and Allyson Junker stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, in Jefferson City, Mo. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A Missouri law that requires abortion physicians to meet their patients three days before the procedure went into effect Tuesday, continuing a trend in state-level assaults on abortion access.

A Jackson County judge declined to block one provision in Senate Bill 5, a bill that hosts a flurry of abortion restrictions. SB5 was enacted over the summer when Gov. Eric Greitens (R) called the legislature into special session. In October, the ACLU Missouri and two Planned Parenthood affiliates tried for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction specifically against the so-called “same physician” provision, but were unsuccessful.

In her ruling Monday, Jackson County Circuit Judge S. Margene Burnett said the same-physician requirement was “at best a moderate modification of the informed consent restraints already in place,” according to KCUR.

Prior to SB5, Missouri required a 72-hour waiting period before a person could obtain an abortion, and that they undergo counseling with a “qualified professional.” Now, only the doctor performing the abortion can provide the counseling.

“This kind of requirement can be quite problematic,” Guttmacher’s Senior State Issues Manager Elizabeth Nash told ThinkProgress. Nash compared SB5 to an existing law in Texas where women and gender minorities are required to obtain an ultrasound at least 24-hours before the abortion, unless they live 100 miles from a clinic. The caveat is the physician who performs the abortion needs to provide the ultrasound.

“What happens if the provider is sick on the day of her appointment or is otherwise unavailable?” said Nash of Texas’ own law. “The woman can either have the abortion later with that provider, or start the process over with another ultrasound with another provider.” She anticipates SB5 presenting similar challenges.

Not many states have Missouri’s requirement, Nash said. Eighteen states require counseling and 27 states have mandated waiting periods — usually 24 hours — requiring a person to wait between counseling and the abortion procedure, according to Guttmacher data.

After Utah became the first state to enact a 72-hour waiting period in 2012, experts weighed in to see if the law would dissuade people from having abortions. Researchers at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health found that it largely did not. It did, however, burden people “with financial costs, logistical hassles, and extended periods of dwelling on a decision they had already made.”

Of the 500 women researchers interviewed, the law pushed one woman beyond her facility’s gestational limit for abortion. Experts concluded the 72-hour waiting requirement seems to have been unnecessary, as it accomplished nothing.

Laws that affect abortion access need to be looked at collectively and not individually, say abortion rights activists. “You can’t look at these restrictions piecemeal; it’s part of a larger puzzle,” Bonyen-Lee Gilmore, the communications director for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told ThinkProgress.

Missouri, for instance, already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Among them is a requirement that the abortion needs to be performed by a licensed physician. There are three clinics that perform abortions in the state, which means the few doctors that work there will have to counsel every person in Missouri who is considering abortion.

The Great Plains region has a bad provider shortage already, said Gilmore. This is a problem created by the state, she said, as it discourages physicians from signing on to provide abortions. One to two doctors already have to travel from out of state and across the state to address the area’s shortage. Now, these doctors will have to account for counseling.

“What is so frustrating and infuriating about abortion restrictions in Missouri is they don’t have the same access to safe abortion as they do in other states that are less ideologically extreme,” Gilmore told ThinkProgress. A person’s right to a safe abortion procedure is tethered to zip code, she said.