Of 27 abortion bills considered by the Missouri legislature this year, one stands out. Republicans made it a top priority. Abortion rights advocates fear it most.
The bill wouldcreate one of the nation’s longest waiting periods
— three days — after a woman’s initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. That would triple the current 24-hour waiting period.
An exception for medical emergencies is already included in current law, but not for rape or incest. Senate Democrats attempted to add those exemptions this week, but their efforts were thwarted by the Republican majority.
Only Utah and South Dakota have similar 72-hour waiting periods in place.
“Having an abortion is an elective procedure. Elective surgery,” Sen. David Sater, a Cassville Republican, said when introducing the bill in committee earlier this year. “I want the patients to have plenty of time to be able to have an understanding of what they are going to have done in the elective surgery.”
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, said Thursday that if Democrats continue to filibuster the bill he will employ a rarely-used procedural move to force a vote. Known as a “previous question” motion, it hasn’t beenused to kill a filibuster in the Senate since 2007
Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, said she’s still hopeful it won’t come to that.
“I’m trying to get them to focus on any bill other than this one,” Justus said. “I’ve said, ‘Let’s pass five other pro-life bills instead of this one.’ That’s how bad I think this bill is. But so far, this is still the Republican majority’s priority.”
To proponents of the bill, three days isn’t too long to wait to terminate a pregnancy.
“We hope it gives (a pregnant woman) more opportunity to weigh her options and hopefully not have an abortion,” said Sam Lee, president of Campaign for Life Missouri. “This helps women and saves the lives of unborn children.”
But the bill has provoked vehement opposition. Critics say the waiting period represents an unconstitutional obstacle for women seeking to have a legal medical procedure.
“The implication that a woman seeking an abortion hasn’t put any thought into the decision and needs state government to step in and protect them is insulting,” said Ryann Summerford, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri.
The constitutionality of the 72-hour waiting period has not yet been fully tested in court. Planned Parenthood sued South Dakota over the issue. In 2012, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect. But thatlawsuit was eventually dropped
Summerford said many women already drive great distances to the only Missouri facility that performs elective abortions, located in St. Louis. A three-day waiting period would impact low-income women the most, she said, because they cannot afford the transportation, time off work, or child care needed to schedule multiple appointments.
“This is simply an attempt to restrict abortion services by making it harder for women to gain access,” she said.
Clinics just across the Missouri state line in Overland Park and in Granite City, Ill. — 15 minutes from St. Louis — would not be subject to the 72-hour waiting period.
The bill overwhelmingly cleared the Missouri House in March and it’s been brought up for debate twice in the Missouri Senate. Both times it has run into a filibuster by the chamber’s nine Democrats.
Last Tuesday, Democrats offered an amendment that would exempt a victim of rape and incest from the waiting period.
“This (waiting period) just victimizes them further,” said Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat. “It’s just three days to further reflect and be reminded of a crime they were a victim of.”
The amendment was ultimately defeated on a 22-9 on a party-line vote.
“Should the unborn child of a rape victim have a different life or be less important than another unborn child?” Sater asked shortly before the amendment was defeated.
Sater has long opposed adding rape and incest exemptions to the bill.
If the Senate passes the waiting-period legislation, it would go to Gov. Jay Nixon. The Democrat has three times during his tenure passively allowed abortion restrictions to become law by refusing to either sign or veto them.
Justus said the reason the bill scares her so much is the precedent it may set. If the bill becomes law and survives the inevitable court challenge, “state after state after state is going to follow our lead and implement a 72-hour waiting period.”
“All eyes are on Missouri right now,” she said, “and if we go down this path I fear it will spread across the country.”
House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican, said ina recent radio interview
that Missouri must “protect life” or else it could “run out of citizens, it would run out of taxpayers and the state would cease to exist.”
Tripling the current waiting period to have an abortion, Jones said, is not an unreasonable burden.
“I don’t think 72 hours, three days, is too much time to bring another life into this world or not.”