Gov. Jay Nixon vetoes 72-hour abortion waiting period in Missouri

07/02/2014 12:54 PM

07/02/2014 5:32 PM

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that would have tripled the waiting period in Missouri for a woman seeking an abortion.

The legislation called for a woman to wait 72 hours after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure could be done. The current waiting period is 24 hours.

It included no exception for victims of rape or incest, a fact that Nixon said led to his veto.

Calling the measure “extreme and disrespectful,” Nixon said in a statement that the bill “demonstrates a callous disregard for women who find themselves in horrific circumstances.”

Tripling the waiting period, Nixon said, “serves no demonstrable purpose other than to create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make.”

During debate on the bill in May, Democrats in the Missouri Senate pushed for rape and incest exceptions. Their efforts were thwarted by the Republican majority.

“Should the unborn child of a rape victim have a different life or be less important than another unborn child?” Sen. David Sater, a Cassville Republican who sponsored the bill, asked shortly before the amendment exempting rape and incest victims was defeated.

The bill ultimately passed when Democrats agreed to abandon their filibuster that had been stalling progress for weeks in exchange for Republicans dropping other measures the Democrats opposed related to union fees and photo identification requirements for elections.

Under both current law and the new legislation, Missouri’s abortion waiting period doesn’t apply in instances deemed by a doctor to be a medical emergency.

While Nixon had signaled earlier this year that he was considering a veto of the measure, abortion rights advocates were concerned.

The Democratic governor has historically allowed bills that restrict abortion to become law without his signature, most recently a measure last year that requires doctors to be in the room for the initial dose of a drug used in medical abortions.

Sater, in a statement released Wednesday, accused Nixon of playing politics with the lives of the unborn, saying he “decides to be pro-life or pro-choice depending on the next election.”

“Serious elected officials remember that unborn children are not abstractions to play politics with,” he said. “They are real. They are human beings like you and me and deserve protection under the law.”

Missourians, Sater said, “do not think three days is too much time to decide whether to bring a child into this world.”

Critics of the legislation say the waiting period represents an unconstitutional obstacle for women seeking to have a legal medical procedure. That’s especially true for low-income women, they argue, since the only Missouri facility that performs elective abortions is in St. Louis, meaning travel and hotel costs could prove daunting.

Abortions are performed just across the Missouri state line in clinics in Overland Park and Granite City, Ill. — 15 minutes from St. Louis.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, praised Nixon’s veto.

“This bill isn’t about helping women,” he said. “This legislation is simply further intrusion by politicians into a woman’s private medical decisions.”

The 72-hour abortion bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority. It fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed for an override in the Senate, although one Republican lawmaker didn’t vote that day.

Two other states — South Dakota and Utah — have passed similar 72-hour waiting periods.

State figures show that there were about 6,000 abortions performed in Missouri in 2012 and that the number of abortions for Missourians has declined each year since 2008.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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