Missouri Republicans fight to pass one of the most draconian abortion laws in the country

Temporarily thwarted by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto, the state GOP plans to reconvene to restrict abortion

Published September 5, 2014 3:20PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

Missouri is one of six states in this country with only one abortion clinic, but that hasn't slowed efforts from anti-choice lawmakers to further limit access to care. If anything, the last standing clinic has become an easy target for the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Earlier this year, Missouri passed a law that would require people seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours from their first clinic visit before they can access care. There are only two other states in the country, Utah and South Dakota, with such a restriction on the books. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure, in part because it lacked exceptions for rape or incest.

But as Molly Redden at Mother Jones reports, Republican lawmakers are planning to use a special veto session to take another vote on the measure, hoping to override Nixon's veto. And as Redden points out, they stand a good chance of doing just that:

A vote could come as early as September 10. If the bill receives the two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate required to override Nixon's veto Missouri would become the third state, after South Dakota and Utah, to impose a three-day waiting period, the longest in the country. A veto override is nearly certain: In May, when the bill first passed, it received a veto-proof majority in the House and was one vote shy of this benchmark in the Senate; a Republican Senator who was absent that day intends to support the bill.

The Republican sponsor of the House version of the bill has defended it against criticism that it would post an undue burden, noting that the state already imposes a 24-hour waiting period. "Taking it from one day to three days? I don't think it's creating an extra obstacle for the mothers," said state Rep. Kevin Elmer. And like many other defenders of mandatory waiting period laws, Elmer argued that he is simply giving people seeking abortion extra time to "think" about the decision.

"We're asking all mothers just to give it another 48 hours to think about what is it they're doing when they kill their unborn child," he said.

Elmer's reasoning is, of course, offensive. People seeking abortion care do so because they've already thought about it. And available research shows that state-imposed restrictions do virtually nothing to change people's minds about the choice to have an abortion, but they do a whole lot when it comes to making abortion more costly and harder to access. According to a report from the Guttmacher Institute, following enforcement of Mississippi's 24-hour mandatory waiting period and mandatory counseling laws, "abortion rates fell, the number of women going out of state for an abortion rose and the proportion of second-trimester abortions increased."

Like Mississippi, Missouri has just one clinic and a mandatory counseling law.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at Missouri's last clinic, told ThinkProgress earlier this year that the cost burden -- because of travel, time off work and state laws prohibiting private and public insurance coverage for abortion with only narrow exceptions -- is often her patients' biggest concern. "From the perspective of the women we care for, the biggest issue is economic," she said. "In Missouri, insurance, both private and public, are prohibited from covering the cost. That leaves women scraping by to find the cash to get the care."

She also pointed out that the 24-hour waiting period already presents a tremendous burden to patients:

With a 24-hour waiting period, women are required to have a minimum of two visits, but it can be as many as three depending on gestational age and type of abortion they choose (medical vs. surgical). This translates into arranging child care more than once. Finding transportation for the 90+ mile drive. Asking a friend or loved one to take off work for two days to accompany you. Lost wages for two days…. And all of that is the most ideal of situations. If they are in the second trimester when they present, the procedure will be performed over two days, which requires a hotel stay in St. Louis for a night.

But such concerns haven't registered with the Republicans pushing the 72-hour waiting period. When asked if he felt optimistic that the measure would receive a veto-proof super majority at the next vote, Elmer remarked, "I like our chances."

Update: This post has been updated to reflect that Missouri's General Assembly meets for a special veto session if any bill is vetoed late in or following a regular session. The post previously stated that the session had been called by state Republicans.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

MORE FROM Katie McDonough

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

72 Hour Waiting Periods Abortion Mississippi Missouri Reproductive Health Reproductive Rights Trap Laws