Missouri is one of six states that are down to just one abortion clinic.
After three decades on the front line of the anti-abortion movement in Missouri, Sam Lee hopes one day it will be zero.
“The goal is for women not to have abortions,” said Lee, the director of Campaign Life Missouri. “One way to accomplish that is to have fewer clinics. The farther away an abortion clinic is, the less likely a woman will have an abortion.”
Missouri lawmakers have worked to incrementally but steadily reduce access to abortion year after year. In September, the Senate turned to a rare procedural move to cut off a Democratic filibuster of legislation tripling the state’s waiting period to have an abortion to 72 hours. The new law gives Missouri some of the most stringent abortion regulations in the country.
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The political capital already spent to pass that bill, however, may mean the 2015 legislative session is relatively quiet on the abortion issue. Increased GOP majorities may mean more votes on his side of the issue, Lee said, and he’s sure the House will pass a number of bills. But he doesn’t sense there is much appetite in the Senate for another high-profile showdown so soon after forcing a vote on the 72-hour bill.
“From everything I’ve been told, pro-life legislation will be entertained, but there will not a big bill like the 72-hour waiting period that will pass,” Lee said. “Something will get done, but it will be a lot smaller in its effect.”
Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said she expects a repeat of last year, when lawmakers filed more than two-dozen anti-abortion bills. But like Lee, she expects 2015 to be less contentious than years past and for most of those bills to ultimately go nowhere.
“They’re just slowly chipping away at reproductive health rights,” Sumners said. “It’s a strategy to make abortion a right without a remedy. … (But) it will be quieter and the bills that pass will be less dramatic.”
Elsewhere, the abortion opponents may change the landscape more dramatically. The Republican wave that carried the party to power in the U.S. House and Senate also washed over statehouses. It’s widely expected that because of this, 2015 will be a banner year for the anti-abortion movement.
“We came out of Nov. 4 with a lot of momentum,” Chuck Donovan, president of the research and education arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told Politico earlier this year. “We’re about to get another uptick (in anti-abortion laws).”
Republicans also expanded their legislative majorities in Missouri. They now have enough votes in both the House and Senate to override any vetoes by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Shortly after the November elections, incoming House Speaker John Diehl signaled his intent to carry on the push for abortion restrictions.
“We’ll continue to defend the lives of the unborn so all children have the opportunity to grow into happy, healthy, productive adults,” said Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs.
Tripling the waiting period to have an abortion was the crescendo of several years of anti-abortion legislation in Missouri.
In 2010, legislation passed requiring women seeking an abortion to be provided with a state-produced brochure proclaiming: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
In 2011, more restrictions were added for women seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In 2012, lawmakers enacted new religious and moral exemptions from insurance coverage of birth control.
In 2013, doctors were banned from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs remotely via telemedicine.
A handful of abortion bills have already been filed by Missouri lawmakers, ranging from requiring consent from both parents instead of just one before a minor can receive an abortion to denying a father custody rights if he attempted to coerce the mother into getting an abortion prior to the child’s birth.
Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, has drawn national attention as the sponsor of legislation requiring pregnant women to get permission from the father before having an abortion.
But the bill expected to get the most traction would mandate that the state conduct annual on-site inspections of any abortion clinic. Critics of the bill say the state already has the authority to inspect abortion clinics as frequently as it chooses without advance notice.
“This is really just designed to harass the sole Missouri provider of abortions,” Sumners said.
The only Missouri facility that currently performs elective abortions is a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
That helps explain why, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 11,419 Missouri women who obtained abortions in 2011, roughly 53 percent were performed out of state.
The majority — more than 5,700 — took place in Kansas or Illinois, where clinics are located just across the state lines from Kansas City and St. Louis.
Lawmakers in Kansas have also been busy in recent years restricting abortion. Few believe that push will subside any time soon. A 72-hour waiting period like Missouri’s could be on the agenda, as well as legislation banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The last few years have been particularly good for the anti-abortion movement in Missouri, Lee said. In addition to restricting abortion, lawmakers have also increased tax credits and funding streams for religious anti-abortion centers.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and these things go in cycles,” he said. “Next year will probably be a lot quieter, but there will still be progress.”
Sumners said she still expects to have to wage fights on several fronts against laws she believes would be harmful to women’s health. The frustrating part, she said, is that the legislature is unwilling to discuss the things that actually reduce abortions.
“Restricting access is a factor to the falling abortion rate,” she said. “But better access to contraception, including emergency contraception and comprehensive sexual education, plays a much bigger role.”