A moderate Republican Mom tagged along earlier this week as Planned Parenthood lobbied legislators in Jefferson City, state capitol here in the swing state of Missouri. Well, it used to be a swing state. It’s fairly red at the moment. So what does it look like when a pro-choice moderate Red walks around with a Planned Parenthood delegation? Here’s Linda Rallo’s report.
This past Tuesday, Missouri House members overwhelmingly approved legislation that gives health care providers the right to refuse care to patients if it violates their religious principles. Even though current statute already allows workers to refuse to participate in an abortion, this bill extends protection to include birth control, sterilization, assisted reproduction and stem cell research. The language also allows workers to deny referrals for care. House Speaker Tim Jones said that patients can’t be denied treatment in emergency situations, bill language but does not specify what constitutes an emergency and offers no provision for victims of rape.
On Wednesday, a group of about 20 volunteers representing Planned Parenthood travelled to the Capitol to lobby legislators. Their objective of the day was to thank the 41 representatives who voted against the bill, hand out petitions from supporters statewide, and speak individually with some of members who voted no.
Wearing pink lapel stickers that said, “I stand with Planned Parenthood” the volunteers walked the hallways amid some stares and several high fives.
The message of the day was not abortion or stem cell research but simply to raise awareness about challenges that victims of rape have in Missouri trying to access emergency contraception. As one volunteer shared with several elected officials, “I am a rape survivor and despite the fact that I had financial resources and lived in an urban environment, I did not have transportation and had to go to two pharmacies on foot before I could obtain emergency contraception. It made a hard day much harder.”
The responses from lawmakers varied. One scratched his head and muttered, “I have no idea what this bill is about; we have deviated so far away from the abortion issues that I don’t even know what we are talking about anymore.” He questioned the motives of legislators who seem intent on denying women access to contraception. Another who had accepted the Planned Parenthood endorsement but voted for the bill anyway refused the first request for a meeting. It took some convincing from a senior staffer to get him into the hallway for a conversation. He told the group, “When I took that vote I immediately went to my office and slammed my door; the vote ruined my day.” The volunteer asked, “Well then why did you vote for the bill?” He reasoned that his district is so pro-life that he had no choice. “I’m pro-choice, but it’s my constituents,” explained. A third who voted yes said, “I am a minister and my sister is a nurse and it just seemed like the right thing to do.” When the volunteers explained that this bill would restrict a rape victim’s access to emergency contraception he said, “The Speaker told me that rape victims would be fine; they could still get the care they needed.”
Planned Parenthood officials feel the language in the bill is unclear and will put some women at risk because they can be refused treatment up until the absolute moment where their life is in danger. The bill also does not specify an exact time a healthcare worker can opt out of providing care. The language states a “reasonable” amount of time; but unless more clearly defined in the Senate; this may have to be worked out through the courts.
Other legislators whispered that they hated the bill but they needed to support the Speaker’s pro-life agenda because he was under pressure from the more conservative members of his caucus to pass at least one pro-life bill this session. Missouri law already has many restrictions on abortion and according to the Planned Parenthood staff, the only one place in the state where women can get an abortion is St. Louis.
However, there are many political advocacy groups in the Capitol everyday working against Planned Parenthood. They include Missouri Right to Life, the Concerned Women of American, and the Family Policy Council. Planned Parenthood has a lobbyist as well in the building during session to track bills trying to fend off attempts to further regulate women’s reproductive rights. So far this year, these efforts have been unsuccessful. House Bill 457 now heads to the Senate for debate.