Missouri Republicans have a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of women by redirecting the kinds of election year politics around social issues. But old habits do die hard. It is going to take strong women who respect the rights of the individual to parse through the election year politicking behind some of the new laws being debated in Jefferson City this week. First, lawmakers have put Missouri in the top 3 states trying to craft legislation to dial back abortion rights. Second, our state Senate is considering a conscience bill that would allow employees to opt of treatments that violate their religious beliefs about abortion, stem cell research and contraception. I don’t think anyone should ever have to provide a pill or healthcare service to someone that violates their religious beliefs. Neither a company nor an individual employee. Providing contraception as part of a health insurance package is very different than providing an abortion inducing pill. But why would someone choose to work in a healthcare setting whose procedures violate their faith? This conversation is all about choice.
How will Republicans get their right on messaging around job creation and tax reform across when they continue to ignore the fact that a growing segment of voters would prefer to agree to disagree on abortion. The truth is the average woman in this country (and I would argue in this state) isn’t focussed on abortion rights in her day in and day out life because she reasonably believes no politician in their right mind is going to try to overturn Roe v. Wade. The people focussing on abortion are male pols who are playing politics with our bodies. As a Democratic lawmaker from St. Louis said in this Post-Dispatch article today, “You should not be in the womb of a woman.” If you are against government regulation, in favor of the rights of the individual and want to focus on jobs, stop trying to slide pesky legislation past us. We need to elect more women to public office. And we need those women to be capable of parsing thru the issues. Parental notification is one thing; requiring women to watch a video or strengthening ultrasound requirements is harassment.
There is only one provider of abortions in the state of Missouri. Yet, there is a disproportionate amount of time, energy and money being given by our State Legislature to a new set of laws that would multiply the number of inspections, toughen the laws around financial disclosure and require advanced ultrasounds. We women need to stand up and say, “Stop.”
Missouri lawmakers considering more restrictions on abortion
The majority contain new restrictions and requirements focusing on the process a woman goes through to obtain an abortion and on the St. Louis-based clinic that is the last abortion provider in the state.
The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday to the tripling of the 24-hour waiting period, and the Senate spent four hours debating it. Senate floor leader Ron Richard told reporters afterward that he’d like to use a procedural vote to force the issue.
“I’m for life, not death,” Richard said, adding that he had not discussed the issue with other Senate Republicans.
The Senate has typically been the sticking point for abortion restrictions, with Democrats stalling the bills or seeking compromises. Last year, only a single abortion-related bill passed.
“You’re acting like women are stupid, like women are idiots,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, during debate on the waiting period. “Hopefully this bill goes down in flames. You should not be in the womb of a woman.”
Elizabeth Nash, the state policy director for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights and research group, said Missouri was among the top three states with the most abortion restriction introduced this year. The 72-hour waiting period has not been proposed in any other state this year, Nash said.
While 26 states have a waiting period before an abortion, only Utah and South Dakota require a woman to wait 72 hours. The Alabama House approved a 48-hour waiting period last week.
Another bill the Missouri House has debated would require notifying both custodial parents before a minor has an abortion. Only one parent would have to consent, as under current law. Notification in writing of the other parent five days before the procedure would amount to a five-day waiting period for minors, according to opponents.
Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Tuscumbia, introduced the bill because of his experience with his daughter. He said he was lucky because his ex-wife wanted him to be involved but he was shocked that both parents do not have to be notified.
“Our daughter made the very courageous decision and decided not to have an abortion,” Miller said. “I realize my family is blessed, I know others are not. However I feel it’s only common sense to notify these custodial parents.”
Opponents of the measure argue that not every child feels comfortable with both parents. The House spent a short time debating the bill on Wednesday before a Democratic lawmaker who opposes abortion introduced an amendment to exempt victims of rape or incest.
About 15 of the bills introduced relate to abortion providers or requirements before the abortion. Increased inspections, greater financial documentation and strengthened ultrasound requirements have been introduced. Measures to increase criminal penalties and requirement for greater medical malpractice coverage have been introduced.
The House version of the 72-hour waiting period mandates that the state’s health department create a video with the same information contained in the 26-page booklet of information provided verbally and in writing. Women would be required to watch the video. Supporters of the measure, which has also been introduced as a separate bill, said it was simply another tool.
Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, asked if women would be arrested if they closed their eyes during the video. “It’s insulting,” she said.
Another proposal that’s had a hearing in the House and is scheduled for a hearing today in the Senate would quadruple the number of inspections required for abortion providers — from once each year to four times. Bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said he wanted to make sure the clinics were safe and sanitary.
“We want to make sure that the women’s health is not in danger,” Wallingford said. “I don’t believe my bills restrict (abortion).”
Nash said she was not aware of any other state requiring four yearly inspections of any clinic or ambulatory surgery center, as most are licensed and inspected each year.
There is only one abortion provider in Missouri, a clinic in St. Louis operated by Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, introduced the same proposal in the House. She said “continued medical emergencies” at the clinic justify more inspections.
Abortion opponents say that based on ambulance visits, there have been more than 25 medical emergencies there since 2009.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at the St. Louis clinic and an instructor at Washington University, said about 6,000 procedures occur each year, and that 25 emergencies over a four- or five-year period is a low number. She said the emergencies don’t always involve an abortion patient.
“The physician is going to err on the side of caution,” McNicholas said. “If there’s any chance a woman is going to need an increased level of care, we’re going to transfer the patient, regardless of if there are protesters standing outside or not.”
The same bill also changes a key definition, removing “psychological or emotional” risks to a woman’s life or health from a medical emergency exemption from the waiting period. Supporters said the change provides help for women who are suicidal before granting them abortions.
“It’s important that the underlying emotion or stress doesn’t cause the decision,” Wallingford said. “Going ahead and giving her the abortion may not help her state of mind.”
Nash said this narrowing of the exception for “life and health” of a woman has been common across the nation in recent years.
McNicholas said exemptions based on the life or health of a woman were rare, but the change may affect a small number of women seeking to get their insurance to cover the procedure.
“I think we’re also going to see an increase in attempts by women to end their pregnancies in a way that’s not safe,” she said.
Other abortion-related bills include tax credits for alternative-to-abortion agencies, or crisis pregnancy centers, which are often run by religious groups and do not provide information about abortion. Measures to increase tax credits have had hearings in the House and Senate.
Proposals to prohibit any regulation on the advertising of these centers are also being considered in both chambers.
Many Democrats and abortion rights supporters have attributed the proliferation of bills this year to election-year ambitions. Abortion opponents and the legislators pushing the bills attributed it to strong “pro-life” beliefs, personal experiences and an accumulation of bills.
Pamela Sumners, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said abortion restrictions were “red meat” for Republican voters, and Republicans wanted to use their veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
“Some states are just testing grounds for bad legislation to be replicated elsewhere,” Sumners said. “Where you have the numbers, it’s an easy strategy to implement.”
Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said the lack of recent abortion-related bills passing the Senate may have contributed to the increased number of bills this year. “I think there’s some concern that Missouri is not doing enough to protect life,” he said.
Abortion rights advocates have resigned themselves that at least one bill restricting abortion will pass this year. Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said she’s open to negotiation.
“My job is not necessarily to stop the legislation,” Justus said. “I’m always ready to sit down and negotiate an agreement that is the least harmful to women.”
Marie French is a reporter in the Jefferson City bureau. You can follow her on Twitter @mre545.
Missouri House approves ‘conscience rights’ bill for third time
JEFFERSON CITY • Medical workers would be protected if they refused to participate in procedures such as abortions, fertility treatments or stem-cell research under a bill given initial approval by the Missouri House.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said his bill protected the “conscience rights” of workers who did not want to provide specific, limited procedures that violated their religious beliefs. He said it also protected patients from having someone distracted while treating them.
“This is good for workers in giving them more rights. This is good for patients,” Jones said. “Do you want that person taking care of you who is not 110 percent invested in what they’re doing and is sitting there wondering if they’re violating their religious beliefs?”
The bill would prohibit retaliation from employers if an employee gave “reasonable notice” that they didn’t want to participate in specific procedures. Jones said he had revised the bill from previous years to include exceptions for emergency situations.
Besides employees, the bill also protects institutions from being required to provide any procedure that violates its “conscience,” which would be determined from its guidelines and mission statement. The definitions in the bill include protections for refusing to refer patients for the specific procedures listed.
Opponents of the bill said it would interfere with women’s access to medical services and was government intrusion into health care. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said the bill specifically targeted procedures women have come to expect and rely on.
“This is this body trying to put themselves in our gynecology offices telling our doctors exactly what they can and can’t do,” Newman said. “This is one more vagina-specific bill in an election year.”
Jones said that the intent of the bill was solely to protect workers and their religious freedom under the First Amendment. He said Newman had brought political “vitriol” into the debate and said that if the other side really thought the government shouldn’t be involved in health care, then they should help dismantle the president’s health care law.
“This is simply codifying and giving greater freedom and more rights to institutions that do not want to provide certain services,” Jones said.
Debate on the bill was ended quickly and the measure was approved 116-38. After another vote, the bill moves to the Senate. Last year, the bill was not debated in the full Senate.
(The bill is HB 1430.)
Marie French is a reporter in the Jefferson City bureau. You can follow her on Twitter @mre545.
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