JEFFERSON CITY — Legislators, eager to underline anti-abortion bona fides in this election year, have raced to top one another in Missouri, Kansas and other increasingly conservative states.
By ALLISON PRANG
Special to The Star
Many lawmakers essentially compete to introduce abortion-restricting bills, sometimes pressing identical measures to better draw attention to their particular passions on the issue.
That push comes in the wake of steadily dropping abortion rates, although it’s unclear whether a down economy is more responsible for the dip than stricter laws.
The Missouri legislature faces a host of anti-abortion bills. Some would increase the length of time women must wait before undergoing abortions. Others would require that even after one parent consents to a daughter’s abortion, the other parent must be notified a week in advance. Yet other legislation secures medical professionals’ right to refuse to take part in a procedure that runs counter to their conscience.
That follows years of abortion fights in Kansas that have yielded some of the country’s most restrictive rules. So restrictive, in fact, that Kansas has landed in court repeatedly in recent years defending its restrictions.
It’s a national trend that dates at least to the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that established abortion rights. Unable to ban abortion, legislators in conservative states have since launched myriad efforts to test how far they could go to limit them.
Between 2011 and 2013, states passed 205 abortion restrictions. That’s more than in the previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group that analyzes reproductive issues.
In 2011 alone, said Elizabeth Nash, the institute’s state issues manager, states passed 92 abortion restrictions.
The uptick in anti-abortion legislation comes largely from a swing in power, she said, when Democratic legislatures became more Republican and GOP legislatures became more decidedly Republican.
From 2008 to 2011, the number of abortions also decreased. That came before the recent flood of laws restricting abortion. The recession, she said, contributed to a downturn in pregnancies, leading to fewer births and fewer abortions.
Pamela Sumners, a lobbyist for the abortion rights group Missouri NARAL, said legislators in Jefferson City this year have introduced identical versions of the same proposals. She sees that as a tactic by lawmakers to gain favor with their anti-abortion constituents.
“I have never seen as many bills before coming out with just a sole sponsor as I have seen this year,” she said.
Susan Klein, a lobbyist for Missouri Right to Life, also noted a proliferation of anti-abortion measures filed individually in the General Assembly. It’s a trend she likes.
“It brings the issue of that particular bill to the forefront of debate,” she said.
Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis Democrat, said the trend is a product of election year politics.
“That’s why there is this flurry,” she said.
In Kansas, the waiting period to have an abortion is 24 hours.
Missouri legislators have introduced bills to extend that state’s waiting periord to 72 hours.
If Missouri were to enact such a waiting period, it would join only South Dakota and Utah with 72-hour waits.
Backers of the longer waiting period say it’s appropriate for such a monumental decision.
“I don’t know of any other medical procedures that result in the death of a human life,” said Rep. Keith Frederick, a central Missouri Republican, vice chairman of the health policy committee and one of the bill’s sponsors. “Seventy-two hours is not an unreasonable request of a person who is considering termination of another life.”
Other supporters of the bills argue a longer waiting period will allow women to avoid pressure that might rush them into having an abortion.
Critics of the longer waiting period argue it poses a significant hurdle for obtaining an abortion, particularly for women from rural areas who may travel long distances for the procedure.
“Already, our waiting period is creating additional hardship,” said Paula Gianino, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
One in five women, she said, travels 100 miles to get to her agency’s facilities.
Another Missouri bill would demand that even if one parent of a daughter gave consent for an abortion, the other parent would need to be told in writing seven days before the procedure.
Nancy Steward testified in favor of the bill. When she was 15 years old, she said, she told her mother she was pregnant and ultimately had an abortion. Months later, her father found out and, Steward said, he supported her giving birth. Had she known her father’s thoughts, she said, she would not have had an abortion.
Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, said requiring notification of a second parent is “redundant.” Most teens involve their parents in the decision, she said, and the new rule would add to the existing waiting period.
She wants the legislature to put more energy into preventing unwanted pregnancies.
“(But) that doesn’t seem to be the environment here in Missouri,” the obstetrician-gynecologist said.
Another bill, this one introduced by House Speaker Tim Jones, has passed the House. It would allow a medical professional to opt out of working on a procedure “that violates his or her conscience.”
Medical professionals would have to give a “reasonable notice” that they don’t want to take part in a procedure.
Guttmacher’s Nash said proposals further restricting abortion are common across the country.
“This wave,” she said, “is going to continue.”