Guest Commentary

Lawmakers must listen to Missourians’ voices about abortion

Missouri state Rep. Sarah Unsicker and her family
Missouri state Rep. Sarah Unsicker and her family

Just this year, conservatives in the Missouri General Assembly passed an extreme ban on abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy and called for physicians who perform an abortion after eight weeks to face possible prison time. Fortunately, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs recently blocked the eight-week ban from taking effect.

As a Missouri legislator who fought against this bill, the news feels like a reprieve for Missouri’s women. This ruling affirms equality, autonomy and freedom for anyone who might need to make a decision about abortion — and data shows nearly one in four women will make that decision at some point in her life.

Forcing someone to carry a pregnancy — which this bill would have done — can have devastating and lasting consequences for a woman and her family. Pregnancy can have detrimental health effects on some women’s bodies. Studies show a woman who is denied abortion care is more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who receives the care she needs. After being denied an abortion, a woman has three times greater odds of being unemployed than a woman who was able to obtain one. On the other hand, women who are able to get abortion care are six times more likely to have positive life plans and to achieve them, compared to those who are denied.

While we celebrate the court’s decision as a victory for women’s autonomy, we should also note that Missouri stands in a patchwork of a growing number of states with increasingly cruel abortion restrictions and outright bans throughout our country. Since 2011, anti-abortion legislators have quietly passed more than 400 medically unnecessary and politically-motivated state restrictions, pushing safe and affordable abortion care out of reach, especially for poor women, young people and people of color. This has left increasingly vast areas of our country with few or no abortion providers. In fact, here in Missouri, these restrictions stand on the verge of forcing us to become the first state without an abortion clinic.

As part of the State Innovation Exchange’s Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, a one-of-a-kind cohort committed to protecting women’s self-determination, I stand with 385 state legislators across 46 states who fight for reproductive freedom, abortion rights, and access to health care.

Recently, a court intervened and protected our rights, but we know as a country we’re up against tough odds: Tennessee state legislators met earlier this month to consider a six-week abortion ban, and a South Carolina Senate subcommittee will do the same in just a few days. That is on top of the abortion bans that Alabama, Georgia and Ohio legislators passed earlier this year.

While abortion remains legal in all 50 states, we can’t rely on the courts to ensure the protections of Roe v. Wade continue. It’s my duty as a state legislator to do everything I can to reflect the will of the people and protect the health and rights of my constituents.

There’s not a single state, Missouri or elsewhere, where people want to ban abortion outright, and Missouri’s attempt to ban abortion at eight weeks would function essentially as an outright ban. So let’s celebrate this victory for Missouri and use this momentum to work for a better tomorrow for women in Missouri and in every state in the country.

Sarah Unsicker represents the 91st District in the Missouri House of Representatives.